Changes to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have been recommended and are currently being considered.

By Mike Pomranz
August 07, 2020

Over the years, anyone who drinks on a regular basis has probably raised a glass to reports stating the benefits of moderate consumption of alcohol. Other than that, how often have any potential health benefits been at the forefront of your mind when you’re pulling the cork from a bottle of wine? Drinking is a balancing act; if you’ve ever had a hangover, you know that. Now, the U.S. government may find itself in a similarly precarious position as it reevaluates its guidance for how much alcohol Americans should consume on a daily basis.

In a report released last month, the 2020 Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee—which was tasked with reviewing all dietary guidelines, not just those for booze—concluded evidence exists to tighten current alcohol consumption guidelines for men “such that recommended limits for both men and women who drink would be one drink per day.” That change would slash the recommended daily drinking limit for men in half.

Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Since 1990, the Dietary Guidelines for America have had what’s known as “2/1 levels”—a recommendation of “no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.” But the committee is now feeling a bit of gender equity may be in order for two primary reasons: First, they state, “The preponderance of evidence indicates that consuming two drinks per day among men is associated with a modest but meaningful increase in risk compared to consumption of lower amounts, including one drink per day.” Second, the committee cites “emerging evidence [suggesting] the magnitude of risk associated with low volume alcohol consumption may have been underestimated,” specifically suggesting that previously reported “benefits” to moderate consumption might not exist. If true, “the lowest level of risk would be no consumption,” the report states.

Needless to say, government health professionals may have very different thoughts from the alcohol industry, and a number of organizations have stepped in to offer opposing thoughts.

“An advisory committee is proposing the government slash the definition of moderate drinking in half for men, with insufficient scientific evidence to support the change,” the Wine Institute wrote this week, urging wine-loving Americans to contact Congress and the USDA. “In fact, the advisory group’s 835-page report admits that ‘only one study examined differences among men comparing one versus two drinks.’ This is far from the preponderance of evidence that would be needed to reverse decades of U.S. guidance.”

And in an emailed statement, The Distilled Spirits Council also questioned the new recommendation. “This proposal deviates significantly from previous U.S. dietary guidance and is not supported by the preponderance of the scientific evidence, which shows that moderate drinking at current DGA levels is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality. We are urging a comprehensive review of the process as well as the scientific basis for making such an extreme change to this well-established guidance. It is in the best interest of American adults to have dietary guidance on alcohol consumption that is firmly grounded in evidence-based science.”

Even nutritionists have varying opinions on the topic. “[The report] would suggest that there is a lot of new science on this topic, and there’s not,” Eric Rimm, a nutrition researcher at Harvard who was also a member of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, told Politico. “It’s unfortunate because it’s going to create some confusion.”

And of course, regardless of what any evidence shows, many Americans may not care what the government has to say on this topic, something the committee readily admitted. “[Many men] may not find revised recommendations achievable or desirable, at least on a consistent basis,” the report states. “Nonetheless, although guidelines may be aspirational they are important for communicating evidence around health, stimulating thought around behavior change, and prioritizing policies that may lead to changes in consumption.”

The committee also stressed, “These guidelines are intended to improve public health, and should not be interpreted to mean that consumption above these amounts is necessarily indicative of Federal definitions of excessive drinking, which are based on higher consumption amounts with higher levels of risk that have been identified as targets for further screening, counseling, and possibly treatment in a clinical context.”

The report is currently open for public comment until August 13. For now, the guidance remains unchanged.