A reader reasonably asks are moderate drinking findings true? She questions whether research on the health benefits of moderate drinking is funded by the alcohol industry.
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. That’s in comparison to either abstaining or drinking heavily.
So are the positive moderate drinking findings true? Or has the alcohol industry influenced these results?
Research Doesn’t Help Industry
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
Taxes Support the Research
The answer is clear — we all support most of it through our taxes.
The federal government’s lead agency on alcohol is the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). It reports that it funds over 90% of the research on alcohol conducted in the country.
Does the NIAAA have an agenda or a bias? Official federal policy is to reduce the mean per capita consumption of alcohol. It must adhere to that policy.
Some years ago NIAAA employees conducted research. It found that moderate drinking was associated with better health than abstaining. However, they were prohibited from submitting the results for publication. That’s because, according to a memo from their superiors, that information would “not be in the public interest.”
The agency continued its resistance. So Congress later pressured it to award some grants to evaluate the effects (not the possible benefits) of moderate drinking.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Much of the remainder of “alcohol and health” research is funded by the enormous Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It has a multi-billion dollar endowment. Not surprisingly, it’s the largest health foundation in the world. This foundation also strongly promotes a reduction in drinking alcohol. As a result, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on research that supports its goal.
Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation
On the other hand, it appears that the alcohol industry only supported one small health foundation. It has no endowment and it no longer receives any support from the industry.
The Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation (ABMRF) has funded approximately $1.2 million in research grants and conference support annually. By contrast, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spent $265,000,000) in four years alone promoting its anti-alcohol agenda.
The ABMRF now appears only to support conferences. In recent years its lists of grants has contained none related to any health benefits of moderate drinking. Because of its loss of funding, it may cease to exist.
Conflict of Interest
Virtually all medical and public health journals require authors to disclose in writing the sources of their funding. This isn’t simply for the research in their publications.
Authors must also to disclose any funds or support of any kind they have received. Often that they have ever received. This includes travel support to attend scientific conferences, gifts of any size, and even meals.
Given these realities, the influence of the alcohol industry on these research findings seems to be minimal at best. In fact, it seems highly unlikely that the industry influences in any way such results.
Resources: Are Moderate Drinking Findings True?
- De Witte, P. and Mitchell, M. Underage Drinking. ABMRF, 2011.
- Turner, T. and Bennett, V. Forward Together. History of the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation, 1969-1991. Baltimore: The Foundation, 1993.
- White, H., et al. Alcohol and Violence. Baltimore: ABMRF, 1995.
- Wilsnack, R. and Wilsnack, S. Women, Work, and Alcohol. Alco Clin Exper Res, 1992, 16(2), 172-179.