OPINION: Dan Malleck discusses new alcohol guidelines in Canada

Brock University Professor of Health Sciences Dan Malleck had a piece recently published in the Globe and Mail about new Health Canada-funded guidelines related to alcohol consumption.

He writes:

“Two drinks a week. That guidance for low-risk drinking has dominated the headlines around the latest advice Canadians have received about how much alcohol they should consume.

The new Health Canada-funded guidelines, which were released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) this week, recommend revising safe drinking limits, arguing that beyond one to two drinks a week, you are increasingly at risk of a range of conditions, including heart disease, stroke and cancer.

But before you throw out your wine collection, let’s try some perspective.

First, a caveat: I am not an anti-public health zealot. I am a scholar who studies alcohol in its social and cultural environment. But I am also wary of generalized recommendations of behaviour change based upon narrowly selected evidence from a cohort that sounds increasingly like the 19th-century temperance movement.

Although reports have suggested that the guidelines are based on nearly 6,000 peer-reviewed studies, strict criteria ruled all but 16 systematic studies out from being used in the mathematical modelling. In other words, the CCSA is basing its recommendations on a relatively narrow understanding of how alcohol functions.

Often, too, these kinds of studies involve looking at a broad cohort of people and seeing if those with a certain condition were more likely to have been drinkers. If researchers are only looking for drinking as a factor, it can be easy to miss other potential contributors. We don’t know, for instance, whether they spent their time drinking in smoky bars or restaurants (back when that was allowed), or did so while eating less healthy foods; these factors are often marginalized when alcohol becomes the focus.”

Continue reading the full article on the Globe and Mail website.

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