Day 87 of 99 Days to FASDay: Images of FASD

Day 87 of 99 Days to FASDay and we continue to look at a study of key Canadian FASD awareness campaigns – focusing on the images used to raise awareness. The information is from What We Have Learned: Key Canadian FASD Awareness Campaigns Best Start: Ontario’s Maternal Newborn and Early Child Development Resource Centre (Wendy Burgoyne).

How to Choose an Image

One common mistake in developing awareness campaigns is to choose the image first. Ideally, the population of interest should be selected first, followed by the key messages, and finally the images (The Health Communication Unit, 1999). The images should speak to the population of interest and should support the key messages. When images are chosen first, campaigns may inadvertently be insensitive to the needs of pregnant women and families affected by FASD.

The Struggle with Images

Respondents talked about how difficult it was to choose the “right” visual for a campaign. One person said that, on the subject of FASD, she had “image phobia,” because alcohol use in pregnancy is such a complex and sensitive issue.

Respondents also talked about the difficulty in reaching consensus on images because of differences of opinion over supportive versus stronger images. Most respondents indicated a preference for positive images that showed happy, healthy people. Some groups chose “safer” neutral images, such as a picture of a phone or a butterfly.

Respondents were interested in choosing a campaign image that provided a clear visual message about not drinking during pregnancy. However, most respondents also had a preference for positive images that showed health and support. This was one of the main conflicts in the process of planning for campaigns. Most groups made a conscious choice not to include images of alcohol, especially images that associated pregnant women, babies and children with alcohol. A minority of respondents (21%) used images of alcohol in their campaigns. There were many variations on the theme of a pregnant woman holding a drink with a red slashed circle over the woman or over the alcohol.

In campaigns that were funded by the alcohol industry, the funder often stipulated that if images of alcohol were shown, there should be several different types of alcohol. Showing a range of alcohol products indicates that all alcohol is harmful to pregnant women, and also does not implicate a specific sector of the alcohol industry.

The most common images chosen by respondents:

  • pregnant women (38%),
  • babies (13%),
  • pregnant bellies (8%) and
  • community groups (8%).

There were also images of pregnant women with a partner, women in a bar, fathers, young women drinking alcohol, friends, family groupings, a fetus inside a pregnant woman, etc.

There is no perfect answer.

The following are the comments (benefits and concerns) expressed by the survey respondents. The images are ones I have used or found with a search on FASD awareness. (There were no images in the Report). The interesting thing is this survey reviewed campaigns between 2000 – 2004. In 2017 some of the images respondents felt were controversial are being used, but I’ve found the majority of the controversial type images are used in media reports, more so than in awareness campaigns. I was not able to locate ads used 10 years ago for a comparison.

Inclusion of these images is in no way a criticism of the image or organizations that may use them.  Where the image was large enough, I removed the organization name because my intent is not to highlight the organization – I was simply looking for images noted in the report. I would be interested to hear what you think:

  • Do you think the following images are controversial?
  • Does it make a difference if positive words are used with a controversial image?

Image: Pregnant woman.


Benefits: Clearly indicates that the issue is related to the pregnancy

Concerns: May imply that this is only the pregnant woman’s problem.

Image: Pregnant woman and a male partner

alcohol and pregnancy don't mix

Benefits: Indicates the role of the father

Concerns: Not inclusive of single women or women with a female partner.

Image: Pregnant woman drinking alcohol.

pregnant woman drinking

Benefits: Clear visual image.

Concerns: Negative approach to the issue.

Image: Undressed pregnant women

lcbo fasd campaign

Benefits: Clearly indicated pregnancy.

Concerns: May be viewed as culturally inappropriate or objectifying pregnant women.

Image: Headless pregnant women.

pregnant woman headless

Benefits: Focuses on pregnancy.

Concerns: Can be seen as objectifying women.

Image: Fetus floating in alcohol or babies drinking alcohol.

baby drinking alcohol

Benefits: Strong image.

Concerns: May alienate the population of interest.

Other Images

The following were also suggested as controversial. While I couldn’t find a specific ad which had these in (and it could be that in the last ten years the images have changed), there are pictures of these that are used in the media or presentations. As noted in the research, the target audience dictates the image.

Image: Brain of a baby with FASD

Benefits: Shows serious consequences on the developing brain.

Concerns: Not representative of the common problems seen in the brains of individuals with FASD

Image: Individuals with FASD. 

Benefits: Positive images of people with FASD can provide role models and can show the quality of life that can come when appropriate supports are in place.

Concerns: Images of individuals with serious physical disabilities can create confusion about FASD since only a small portion of people with FASD have serious evident physical challenges

What do you think would be a good image for FASD Awareness?


The above series of three ads (I hope more are produced!) are from the award winning FASD prevention campaign by the Yukon Government, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon, and Child Development Centre.

The Beauty in Brain Difference campaign from Pauktuutit is from 2022.

From their website: Our ‘Beauty in Brain Difference’ campaign is grounded in recognizing the strengths and challenges unique to people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Stigma around FASD is a barrier to people reaching out for help or getting diagnosed, it is a barrier to accessing important resources and needed support. Together let’s end FASD stigma and ensure all Inuit have support, care and community.

If you know of a recent study looking at awareness campaigns please leave a comment with a link below! Also if you know of a great image or ad let us know.

See you tomorrow for Day 88 as we continue to focus on awareness leading up to FASD Awareness Day.