Health Benefits of Moderate Drinking: Findings Reliable?
Hello Dr. Hanson,
I am amazed to see so much overwhelming evidence that supports MODERATE alcohol consumption. I have grown up in a religious atmosphere that emphasized absolute abstinence from alcohol. Now that I am older I am trying to look at the issue with an open mind. I have both pros and cons screaming at my frontal lobe and perhaps you can assist me. Where do these statistics come from? Am I being tricked by the Alcohol industry convincing me of the benefits of alcohol? Thank you in advance. Sincerely,
Dear Ms. B:
You are correct to be suspicious of almost any claims found in the news. Many groups have an economic, ideological, political or other interest in influencing public opinion. The research on drinking overwhelmingly reports that moderate alcohol consumption is related to better health and longevity than is either abstaining or drinking heavily. So is there alcohol industry influence on these results?
If alcohol producers want consumers to drink more, the research wouldn’t appear to be helpful. It rather consistently finds that a number of health and safety problems are associated with heavy consumption. In fact, the research reports almost always warn against the dangers of drinking heavily. So it would appear to be in the interest of producers to suppress rather than support the research. The question then is who does provide the money and the answer is clear --- we all support most of it through our taxes.
The federal government's National Institute on alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that it funds 90% of the research on alcohol conducted in the country. Does it have an agenda or a bias? Official federal policy is to reduce the mean per capita consumption of alcohol. Consequently, several decades ago when NIAAA employees conducted research that found moderate alcohol consumption to be associated with better health than abstaining, they were prohibited from submitting the results for publication because, according to a memo from their superiors, that information would "not be in the public interest." Later, in the face of continuing resistance from the agency, Congress pressured it to award some grants to investigators to evaluate the consequences (not the possible benefits) of moderate drinking.
Much of the remainder of "alcohol and health" research is funded by the enormous Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with its ten billion dollar endowment. This, the largest health foundation in the world, also strongly promotes a mean per capita reduction in the consumption and funds research that supports that goal.
On the other hand, it appears that there is only one very small health foundation funded by alcohol producers and it doesn’t have any endowment. The Alcohol Beverage Medical Research Foundation’s list of grants contains none related to any health benefits of moderate drinking.
It is important to know that most medical and public health journals require authors to disclose in writing not only the sources of their funding for the research reported in their publications, but also to disclose any funds or support of any kind they have ever received from commercial or any other sources that could be viewed as a potential source of bias. This includes travel support to attend scientific conferences, gifts of any size, and even meals. Given this reality, I think it highly unlikely that any research reporting on the health consequences of drinking in moderation has been influenced in any way by alcohol producers.
David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
filed under: Health