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Dietary Guidelines Committee Revises Recommendations on Alcohol

Dana Nigro
Posted: February 4, 2000

An advisory committee working on the latest version of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines -- which provide recommendations about what Americans should eat to maintain good health -- has revised the section on alcohol consumption.

The suggested guidelines for 2000, which the committee released yesterday, expand the discussion of the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption from the previous 1995 version; however, the new wording also more strongly emphasizes the harmful effects of drinking and the potential for alcohol abuse.

The wine industry, which fought to get the dietary committee to recognize scientific evidence of wine's health benefits in the 1995 guidelines, had feared that the moderate alcohol consumption recommendation might be taken out. "We are pleased with the primary moderation message being maintained and enhanced -- that's a major achievement," said John De Luca, president of the Wine Institute, a winery advocacy group based in San Francisco.

The dietary guidelines are revised every five years based on scientific knowledge, but politics inevitably play a part in their creation, as food- and health-related groups lobby for language favorable to their products or agendas. "When the previous guidelines came out, we were aware that a lot of forces were looking to subsequent years to roll back the achievements of 1995," said De Luca.

Among the opponents of the 1995 moderate consumption wording is Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who was instrumental in the 1980s campaign to put the current health-warning labels on alcohol. He has been strongly opposed to the introduction of new voluntary wine labels, approved a year ago and put on hold at the end of 1999, that point to the U.S. dietary guidelines for more information on the health benefits of wine. Thurmond had no comment on the proposed guidelines at press time.

The suggested guidelines for 2000 start with a more strongly worded paragraph of discussion about the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption and suggests that these beverages be consumed only in moderation and with meals to slow alcohol absorption. They then elaborate on what constitutes moderate consumption (details that were not provided in the 1995 version) -- one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men, based on differences in weight and metabolism.

Expanding on the 1995 statement that moderate drinking may lower the risk of coronary heart disease, the 2000 guidelines explain that these benefits are seen mainly among men over age 45 and women over age 55, while little health benefit is apparent in younger people.

The Wine Institute, which participated in public hearings on the dietary guidelines, said that it supports the added emphasis on mealtime consumption for those who choose to drink, the definition of moderation and the expanded discussion of a lower risk for coronary heart disease.

However, the Wine Institute felt that there is too much emphasis on excessive drinking and not enough acknowledgement of the extensive research on moderate consumption. The group also objected to the committee's decision to remove the 1995 statement, "Alcoholic beverages have been used to enhance the enjoyment of meals by many societies throughout human history."

The Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services must review the committee's proposal and will issue final guidelines later this year.

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Compare the proposed 2000 guidelines with the 1995 guidelines on alcohol consumption.

Learn more about the debate over health-effects wine labels and the U.S. dietary guidelines:

  • Dec. 14, 1999
    BATF Puts Freeze on New Health-Effects Wine

  • April 23, 1999
    Sen. Thurmond Relaxes Stance Against Treasury Department in Wine-Label Battle

  • March 2, 1999
    Strom Thurmond Challenges Wine's Health Claims Again

  • Feb. 23, 1999
    Senator Pledges to Raise Taxes on Wine, Ban Health Messages

  • Feb. 22, 1999
    Unfiltered, Unfined: Score One for Vintners in Label Wars

  • Feb. 5, 1999
    Vintners Win Approval for Health Statements on Labels

  • Dec. 21, 1998
    Two Powerful Senators Stand in Way of New Wine Label

    For a comprehensive look at wine's health effects, read:

  • Oct. 31, 1998
    Here's to Your Health

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