LOBBYING WORKS WONDERS –
April 23, 2023 – The press ran with it. A New York Times front-page headline announced, “In an About-Face, U.S. Says Alcohol Has Health Benefits.” The assistant secretary of health said at the time, “In my personal view, wine with meals in moderation is beneficial. There was a significant bias in the past against drinking. To move from antialcohol to health benefits is a big change.”
Physicians were also changing their tunes. One influential alcohol researcher, R. Curtis Ellison—who made a cameo on that infamous 60 Minutes episode about the French paradox—wrote in Wine Spectator in 1998, “You should consume alcohol on a regular basis, perhaps daily. Some might even say that it is dangerous to go more than 24 hours without a drink.”
The results live in all of our heads: There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine with dinner every night, right? After all, years of studies have suggested that small amounts of alcohol can favorably tweak cholesterol levels, keeping arteries clear of gunk and reducing coronary heart disease. Moderate alcohol use has been endorsed by many doctors and public health officials for years. We’ve all seen the Times headlines.
Now, 25 years later, you’re likely feeling a fair bit of whiplash. According to new guidelines released in recent months by the World Health Organization, the World Heart Federation, and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, the safest level of drinking is—brace yourself—not a single drop.
“Mainstream scientific opinion has flipped,” said Tim Stockwell, a professor at the University of Victoria who was on the expert panel that rewrote Canada’s guidance on alcohol and health. Last month, Stockwell and others published a new major study rounding up nearly 40 years of research in some 5 million patients, concluding that previous research was so conceptually flawed that alcohol’s supposed health benefits were mostly a statistical mirage. Much different headlines followed.