Thursday 3 September 2020

The drinking guidelines fix is in

More drinking guideline news. In December, I reported that Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council had recruited none other than the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group to 'model' the risks and benefits of drinking at different levels. 

This was a bold move on the part of the National Health and Medical Research Council given that the Sheffield team were caught red-handed changing their methodology to allow Public Health England to lower the guidelines, but the Australian 'public health' industry is no more capable of feeling shame than our own.

Sure enough, the Sheffield crew cut and pasted the model they'd used after Public Health England paid them to make changes that they admitted had no scientific justification. These changes made moderate drinking look less beneficial to health than it is and supported the guidelines being dropped for men. The Aussies are set to do the same, having only last reduced the guidelines in 2009. 

As Joe Aston reports in Financial Review, we now know that the Sheffield team were commissioned without the contract being put out to tender and that the NHMRC broke the budget to pay them $269,010 for their troubles. 
Nice work if you can get it, especially when most academics would never work again if they had Sheffield's track record.
Meanwhile, anti-alcohol academics in the USA are in process of trying to get the guidelines for men halved, from two 'standard drinks' a day to one. This time the main player is Timothy Naimi who has worked with the notorious Tim Stockwell on a number of studies trying to downplay the benefits of moderate drinking. Naimi is the only academic on the panel with a track record of alcohol research and the Advisory Committee's draft report places heavy emphasis on a handful of studies that cast doubt on the benefits of moderate consumption.

In the USA, the tactic seems to be to focus on the optimal level of drinking rather than the safe level. This would be a profound and illogical shift away from how governments set guidelines for food and drink around the world, as I explain in the Washington Examiner:

Although the report acknowledges that men who consume two drinks a day tend to live longer than those who don’t drink at all, the authors say that there are even greater health benefits for men who consume one drink a day or less. The implication is that the guideline should be dropped to one drink a day.

The evidence for this is far from solid, but even if it were proven that one drink is better than two, it would point to an optimal level of drinking, rather simply a safe one. It would also require the government to tell non-drinkers to become light drinkers. And yet the committee argues quite vehemently that alcohol is inherently dangerous, and the U.S. will maintain its advice that those who do not drink alcohol should not begin to drink for any reason.

Convention and common-sense dictate that it is “safe” to drink alcohol at a level that does not increase mortality compared to not drinking alcohol at all. This is how alcohol guidelines have been set around the world for decades.

Safe levels of moderate alcohol consumption, consistent with the current U.S. definition, have been repeatedly confirmed by a wealth of epidemiological evidence. There is no scientific reason to change the U.S. guidelines. The proposal to do so is based on dogma, nothing more.

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