A press release published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Feb. 2 received widespread backlash primarily because it claimed that for any woman, drinking “too much” could lead to “injuries/violence,” “sexually transmitted diseases” and “unintended pregnancy.” The claim was part of an infographic attached to the release.
The infographic was edited on the morning of Feb. 10 to say these risks existed “for anyone,” and the depiction of a female figure was supplemented with a male figure. By 2 p.m., the infographic portion of the release was entirely removed from the CDC’s press site.
In an email to The PHOENIX, Amy Rowland, a senior public affairs and communication specialist for the CDC, apologized for any offense caused by the release.
“In our efforts to share the message that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are entirely preventable, we weren’t as clear as we hoped to be and we offended people,” said Rowland. “We are sorry and we hope they can understand that our focus was on getting the message to women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy and who want to do everything they can to have a healthy baby.”
The release broadly focused on the risks associated with drinking while a woman is planning on becoming pregnant. It asserted that three out of four women do not stop drinking once they stop using birth control in an attempt to become pregnant. This is an issue, according to the release, because women often do not realize they are pregnant until several weeks into the pregnancy.
Some students, such as senior Jaime Smith, thought the original release contained important information but was poorly presented.
“To have this say, like, it’s my fault that I’ve been drinking and have violence committed against me … the correlation there is messed up,” said the 21-year-old communications major. “This whole idea of victim-blaming is so inherent in our society that it needs to be intentionally taken care of to not think that way.”
Especially because this was a release from a government agency, it should have been worded more carefully, according to Smith.
“[The CDC needs] to be more conscious about what they’re saying and how they’re saying it,” she said. “If it was risks of a guy drinking, they wouldn’t have put ‘If you are drinking, you have a higher risk of raping a girl or committing violence against a woman.’”
Natasha Mmeje, assistant director of Loyola’s Wellness Center, said she thinks the release is better without the infographic.
“I think this is a better representation of what they were trying to get across,” said Mmeje. “Infographics are great, but sometimes it does miss the mark because you do need to explain some of these things a little bit more.”
Senior Amanda Koenig agrees that the release is better without the infographic but is concerned about why the infographic was approved in the first place.
“What I want to know most is how this infographic got through,” said the biochemistry major, 22. “Who reviewed it? Who put it together? Were there any women on that committee, on that review board, whatever that process looked like?”
To Koenig, the infographic was “pretty blatant victim blaming” and she said she has yet to see or hear anyone disagree. When she first saw the release while in a science class, she was “really, really angry” and a little worried that this information was coming from the CDC.
The CDC, of all organizations, should know that sexually transmitted diseases aren’t a side effect of drinking, according to Koenig.
“It makes me a little nervous that [the CDC’s] correlation, causation bit is a little off there,” she said.
Even though no programs at Loyola concentrate specifically on alcohol and its effects on women, Mmeje says the topic is addressed often during alcohol education.
“When we do our educational training, we do talk about the differences between the ways male and female bodies deal with alcohol, which is very different,” she said.
Difference in muscle mass, hormones and stomach enzymes all change how alcohol “hangs around” a woman’s body versus a man’s, according to Mmeje.
One long-term issue Mmeje sees with college students is their mindset that they will only drink the way they do while in college.
“Some folks say, ‘OK, I’m just going to drink like this while I’m in college, and then once I leave school, I’m going to drink in a different way,’” Mmeje said. “Sometimes there’s a little bit of a disconnect about the true consequences of drinking.”
These long-term consequences can include heart problems, liver failure and even breast cancer, according to Mmeje.
The PHOENIX will follow this story as it develops.