Prohibitionist Dogma Has No Place in Government Dietary Guidelines

Government dietary guidelines must be be reasonable and science-based.

Imagine you’re at a friend’s party. You finish nursing your first beer and casually reach for a second. Everyone immediately stops and stares. Your friends start whispering to themselves, wondering if they should stage an intervention.

Ridiculous and unjustified, right?

Wrong! At least according to a proposal to significantly alter the U.S. Dietary Guidelines by recommending men drink no more than one alcohol beverage per day.

Government Dietary Guidelines

For decades, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines have advised that if alcohol is consumed, it should be in moderation. Historically, that has been defined as up to two drinks per day for men and one for women.

This differing advice results from physiology, not sexism. That’s according to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It explains that “alcohol resides predominantly in body water, and pound for pound, women have less water in their bodies than men. This means that after a woman and a man of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC, the amount of alcohol in the blood) will tend to be higher.”

The evidence is based on decades of scientific evidence collected around the world. The resulting advice has guided consumers, healthcare providers, and alcohol researchers like me.

New Dietary Guidelines?

But a group of advisors for new Dietary Guidelines released a draft report overturning this decades-old, evidence-based guidance. They would set the limit at just one drink per day for both men and women.

This change is based on startlingly weak grounds. In fact, the advisory panel acknowledged that “only 1 study examined differences among men comparing 1 vs 2 drinks.”

Yes, that’s correct! This panel is relying on just one study to radically change the U.S. government’s 30-year guidance on moderate drinking for men. The group also made broad-brush statements that “risk increases above zero drinks” and “alcohol is an unhealthy substance.”

Temperance Mentality

That kind of moralizing would gladden the hearts of 19th-century prohibitionists. However, it has no place in modern, evidence-based dietary guidelines. Alcohol use disorders among men have declined 10 percent since the Dietary Guidelines were published in 2015. In addition, they’ve dropped over 26 percent in the past decade, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

It’s telling that the advisory panel describes its proposal as “aspirational” — which is to say, not science-based. Nor is it realistic. Who but a prohibitionist would consider having more than one drink per day to be alcohol abuse?

This change isn’t merely academic. It would have significant real-world consequences. Healthcare practitioners refer to the federal dietary guidlines when screening their patients’ alcohol consumption.

We can’t seriously expect physicians to have meaningful discussions about alcohol abuse if the threshold for concern is having two beers on game night. Or more than one glass of wine at a dinner party.

Of course, alcohol abuse is a serious problem for some people. And impaired driving remains a serious issue.

Most Drink in Moderation

However, the vast majority of adults who drink, enjoy alcohol in moderation. Providing evidence-based guidance to inform their drinking is critical.

The proposal to redefine “moderate” drinking for men is not supported by the latest research and scientific evidence. Government guidance on alcohol consumption that lacks credibility will be widely ridiculed and disregarded. Thus it would undercut the effectiveness of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Scientific Evidence Prevailed

Fortunately, these temperance-oriented recommendations were not accepted into the dietary guidlines. At least not this time.

Important is the fact that most news reports fail to mention the non-scientific weaknesses in the proposal. To the contrary, they imply that officials ignored the “experts.” The New York Times even suggested that it was an anti-science political decision. In fact, officials adhered to their duty. In short, the medical evience did not support the proposed change. Therefore, they properly rejected the proposal.

David J. Hanson, Ph.D.


dietary guidlinesStandard Drinks

A standard drink is a

  • 12 ounce can or bottle of beer,
  • five ounce glass of dinner way, or
  • one-and one-half ounce drink distilled spirits.

Many other countries define moderation at much higher levels of consumption. This reflects the long temperance history of the U.S. Even today, almost one in five U.S. adults favors making all alcohol drinking illegal. That is, for everyone of any age. For any purpose. Or at any time.

Web Pages

Drinking Guidelines.  

Alcohol in the Diet.

Drinkers Live Longer: Why?

How Much Alcohol Should I Drink for Health and Long Life? 

Alcohol and Health.  


Edited from Fortune. Note that this site makes no suggestions about drinking alcohol. Instead, consult with a doctor.