U.S. Government Decides Not to Redefine Moderate Wine Drinking

The new federal dietary guidelines kept the recommendation that men drink no more than two alcoholic beverages per day, but any talk of the benefits of moderate consumption are gone

U.S. Government Decides Not to Redefine Moderate Wine Drinking
The FDA says that second glass of wine is OK for men, but states that Americans need to reduce their binge drinking. (Getty Images/MarkSwallow)
Jan 6, 2021

The U.S. government has opted not to redefine moderate drinking. On Dec. 29, the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) released the 2020–2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. While there were some changes, the guidelines left the federal recommendations on alcohol—that women drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day and men drink no more than two—unchanged.

That ignores the suggestions of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which issued a report last July arguing that men should limit themselves to just one drink a day at most and was also dismissive of the idea that moderate or low alcohol consumption could offer any health benefits. (The final guidelines also ignored the committee's recommendations that Americans cut the amount of added sugars in their diet, a decision that drew strong criticism from nutrition and public health groups.)

Members of the wine, beer and spirits industry were relieved by the final guidelines, as were several scientists who had been surprised by the committee's report.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are updated every five years. They are often a battleground of political infighting and lobbying because they influence how food companies market their products and control what foods are served in federal nutrition programs like school lunches. They also shape the advice given by health professionals.

The recommendations on alcohol have far less impact, since they don't govern federal programs. But they do send an important message on how Americans should view alcohol consumption. In 1995, the guidelines broke new ground when they suggested that alcohol, in moderate amounts, could offer some health benefits. They have also warned of the dangers of heavy consumption and binge drinking.

But the scientific committee made no mention of any possible benefits to moderate or low consumption. Instead, their report was dismissive of numerous studies showing possible links between moderate wine consumption and lower rates of cardiovascular disease and did not mention studies linking moderate drinking to lower rates of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's and dementia.

Even some past members of the committee questioned that approach. Dr. Eric Rimm, who headed the panel that created the 2010 guideline recommendations and is now director of the Harvard School of Public Health's Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology, told Wine Spectator that the science on moderate drinking's impact had not changed in recent years, so he was not sure why the committee recommended changing the guidelines. Other scientists pointed out that of 60 studies the committee used, only one measured the difference between one drink and two drinks per day, which suggests minimal evidence for the change.

While the guidelines remain unchanged, the tone of this year's report was different, focusing completely on alcohol's risks, with no mention of possible benefits. That's despite multiple studies linking low to moderate consumption with better all-cause mortality rates than abstinence.


Want to learn more about how wine can be part of a healthy lifestyle? Sign up for Wine Spectator's free Wine & Healthy Living e-mail newsletter and get the latest health news, feel-good recipes, wellness tips and more delivered straight to your inbox every other week!


News Health Legal and Legislative Issues United States

You Might Also Like

Cheval-Blanc and Ausone Say Adieu to St.-Emilion Classification. Does It Matter?

Cheval-Blanc and Ausone Say Adieu to St.-Emilion Classification. Does It Matter?

Owners of two storied Bordeaux estates say that the rankings should focus more on wine …

Jul 23, 2021
New York City’s Restaurant Week Returns as Dining Rooms Reopen

New York City’s Restaurant Week Returns as Dining Rooms Reopen

Summer event features new menu options, award-winning wine lists and more

Jul 21, 2021
Exclusive: Randall Grahm Joins Forces with Gallo for a New Wine Project

Exclusive: Randall Grahm Joins Forces with Gallo for a New Wine Project

The new brand—The Language of Yes—combines Grahm’s penchant for Rhône grape varieties with …

Jul 21, 2021
Is Wine Empty Calories? A Spanish Researcher Argues It May Help Stave Off Extra Pounds

Is Wine Empty Calories? A Spanish Researcher Argues It May Help Stave Off Extra Pounds

Nutrition expert presents evidence that shows polyphenols found in red wine might burn …

Jul 21, 2021
Jeff Bezos Returns from Space and Donates $100 Million to José Andrés Charity

Jeff Bezos Returns from Space and Donates $100 Million to José Andrés Charity

The Spanish chef and humanitarian says he will use the money to expand World Central …

Jul 20, 2021
Diners Loved Wine to Go During the Pandemic; Some States Will Keep It While Others Pull the Plug

Diners Loved Wine to Go During the Pandemic; Some States Will Keep It While Others Pull the Plug

35 states allowed restaurants to sell wine for off-premise consumption, boosting revenue …

Jul 20, 2021