Let’s Keep A Strong Alcohol Section in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

July 16, 2015

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block. This radio commentary is brought to you by Monsanto, and John Deere. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

Today’s Quiz – what has more alcohol – a 12 oz can of beer? A 5 oz glass of wine? Or, a mixed drink with 1.5 oz of spirits? Answer – they all have the same amount of alcohol. 0.6 fl oz.

With all the controversy going on about the new Dietary Guidelines, it’s easy to overlook an item that should not be controversial: a clear and simple restatement of the longstanding advice on moderate alcohol consumption.

The government is putting the final touches on the new Guidelines, which are revised every 5 years. Over the past 35 years, all Federal agencies, as well as public health and consumer groups, have come to rely on the Guidelines’ moderate drinking advice and the definition of a standard drink that has become an essential part of it.

The 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines got it right. It states:

  1. Moderate drinking can be part of a healthy lifestyle for some Americans.
  2. “Moderate drinking” is no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  3. 1.5 fl oz of spirits (40% alcohol), 12 fl oz of regular beer (5% alcohol) and 5 fl oz of wine (12% alcohol) all have the same amount of alcohol and meet the definition of a drink.
  4. The fact that a drink contains 0.6 fl oz of pure alcohol, whether in beer, wine or spirits.

In contrast, the 2015 Scientific Report gave relatively short shrift to alcohol generally and standard drinks in particular: The moderate drinking definition was relegated to a glossary. And presentation of the fact that a standard drink, whether beer, wine or spirits, contains 0.6 fl oz of pure alcohol, is entirely missing from the 2015 scientific report. The concept of alcohol equivalence is disappearing.

This needs to be rectified so consumers may easily understand how their drinking measures up to the Guidelines’ moderate drinking advice. The final report must be revised to reflect the additional information about a standard drink contained in the 2010 Guidelines.

The key “up to one drink/two drinks per day” formulation for moderate drinking makes little sense without a clear definitional reference point within the Guidelines as to what constitutes a drink.

Some have argued that there is no such thing as a standard drink on the basis that restaurants and bars may pour more or less beer, wine, or spirits. This argument totally misses the point. The “standard drink” is a reference point just like the FDA requires that Nutrition Facts for ice cream be based upon one-half a cup serving. While consumers may scoop out more or less than half a cup of their favorite frozen dessert, the Nutrition Facts provide a reference point. The same pertains to the “standard drink.”

The standard drink definition has been endorsed and utilized by numerous federal agencies, consumer and health organizations, and states.

While the Dietary Guidelines won’t by themselves solve the chronic problem of heavy and binge drinking, they do set useful standards to assist those Americans who choose to drink. Defining a “standard drink” makes the Guidelines more relevant and useful.

Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in for John Block from Washington, D.C.