A federal health panel now recommends that men consume no more than one alcoholic drink a day. For 30 years, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee set the limit at two drinks a day. (Women have long been urged to limit consumption to one drink a day.)
Other studies found that drinking under the previous two-beverage standard was actually good for the heart — and that moderate drinkers live longer than abstainers. So why was the earlier guideline chopped in half?
What we have here is a merger of several unfortunate habits in American policymaking where alcohol is concerned. One is a long-standing disapproval of drinking. Prohibition was a moral crusade that ended in fiasco 87 years ago. But there’s a modern version that gussies up the disapproval as a health matter.
Most everyone agrees that continuous heavy drinking can devastate one’s health and that addicts — alcoholics — should stop drinking altogether. But the new guidelines sloppily lump together excessive drinking with social drinking to make what was considered moderate consumption of alcohol look dangerous.
In response, five professors of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard sent a letter to federal officials expressing “serious reservations” about the new advisory. It complained that the committee cited a paper showing that “higher alcohol intake was associated with higher risk of all-cause mortality” but ignored other data in the same study that the researchers say demonstrate “a low-dose, high-frequency pattern was associated with significantly lower risk of total mortality.”