December 5 2012
Christmas party season is upon us; a time to raise a glass and enjoy time with friends and family. Yet, this year, you might want to savor that mug of Christmas grog or rum-spiked eggnog a little more since regulators are adding alcohol to the naughty list.
Just last month, the Centers for Disease Control released figures showing Americans are moderate drinkers and that on any given day, about one-third of men and one-fifth of women consumed calories from alcohol. While men averaged 150 calories from alcohol each day (equivalent to one beer), women, on average, consumed only 50 calories per day from alcohol.
That’s good news, since moderate drinking has long been associated with heart health. Multiple studies have shown that people who have one drink a day reduce their likelihood of developing heart disease by 25 percent, and, according to a meta-study released last year in Canada, daily, moderate alcohol consumption increases the levels of so-called good cholesterol in the body.
Even our government recommends having a glass of wine with dinner. In 2011, the CDC published a study in the American Journal of Public Health that said moderate drinking was one of four behaviors that would help extend an individual's life.
Yet, a Harvard study recently cast doubt on the health benefits of moderate drinking with its finding that women who drank three to six glasses of wine per week increase their risk of breast cancer by 15 percent. The study generated dozens of alarming headlines in the mainstream media leaving many women confused about contradictory medical information involving alcohol. On the one hand, women are advised that moderate drinking is good for cardiovascular health. Yet, this latest study suggested heart-healthy moderate drinking increased chances of developing cancer.
Are women facing a Sophie’s choice? Heart disease or cancer?
Thankfully, no. According to more recent analysis, binge-drinking, not occasional imbibing is the real problem. In a study published last month in the journal Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research, scientists from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that binge-drinking is associated with higher blood alcohol levels which might account for the increase risk for cancer. It makes sense that drinking three to six alcoholic beverages in a single sitting would have a different health impact than consuming that same amount over the course of a week. But perhaps their most important finding is that “the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk needs further study.”
It is the latter conclusion that is particularly important for regulators who more commonly now set policy based on the latest scientific study (no matter its legitimacy) rather than waiting for any sort of medical consensus.
While it’s important for Americans to learn more about the health benefits associated with moderate alcohol consumption, as well as its risks, there’s a larger question when it comes to what government is going to do with this information. Women should also ask themselves: Do we really need more regulations of our individual choices? Do we need a government minder telling us if we are over-indulging?
After all, significant built-in disincentives to drinking too much already exist—a morning-after hang-over and the risk of developing alcoholism. Here are two more common sense and one-does-not-need-a-science-degree-to-understand reasons to avoid over consumption of alcohol which are sure to resonate with women: If you drink too much, you’ll likely behave foolishly and gain weight.
Yet regulators have a nasty habit of doubting Americans’ ability to follow healthy habits. Veteran food nanny Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest is already using the dubious alcohol-cancer connection as an excuse to call for more regulations on alcohol. Reacting to the Harvard study, Wootan invoked New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s widely panned sugary drink ban as a possible guide to more alcohol regulations saying, “In New York City, it was smart to start with sugary drinks. Let's see how it goes and then think about next steps."
Americans are tired of being admonished for how they eat and drink. This food warning fatigue might lead to an even more dangerous reality: Americans might soon start ignoring these ubiquitous health studies. Like the fabled villagers ignoring the shepherd boy who cried wolf, people just won’t trust what they are hearing anymore.
This Christmas, Americans should tell government officials to stop their meddling and enjoy eating and drinking as they please. Practicing alcohol moderation and making good food choices is something most Americans practice every day of the year.
Cheers to that!