Historically, government officials haven’t had the best track-record in recommending what – and what not – to eat and drink. Dieticians and health experts have attested to the public health problems posed by the federal government’s demonization of dietary fat over the past few decades.
Now, a powerful (albeit obscure) body called the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is reversing longstanding recommendations and arguing that men should limit themselves to just one alcoholic beverage per day based on shoddy scientific research. And because DGAC’s recommendations are taken seriously by state and local policymakers across the country, there’s a real risk of costly and regressive measures such as increased taxes on alcohol. Instead of doubling down on fear and hysteria, lawmakers must embrace evidence-based policies on diet and drinking.
Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) appoint “nationally recognized experts” to serve on the DGAC and craft a new Dietary Guidelines for Americans report. These scientists have repeatedly fallen prey over the years to faulty research, resulting in unreliable guidelines that nonetheless play a key role in shaping public policy. For more than two decades, the guidelines recommended an upper limit on total fat consumption. This was based on purported evidence that dietary fat increased the risk of heart disease and various cancers.
Not so fast with the fat alarmism. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, (cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University) and Dr. David Ludwig, (director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital) note, “Placing limits on total fat intake has no basis in science and leads to all sorts of wrong industry and consumer decisions … Modern evidence clearly shows that eating more foods rich in healthful fats like nuts, vegetable oils, and fish has protective effects, particularly for cardiovascular disease.”
Fortunately, DGAC reevaluated the evidence and finally nixed these recommended fat limits in time for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines report.
There is now a new boogeyman: alcohol. In a recently released scientific report, DGAC recommends that men stick to just one alcoholic drink per day. This is a marked departure from the committee’s 2015 advice which recommended a limit of two drinks per day. Gone is the language from previous reports emphasizing the preventative health effects of moderate alcohol consumption. The report’s authors note, “higher average consumption is consistently associated with increased mortality risk compared to lower consumption” despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary.
Sure, heavy drinking is linked to a host of health maladies. But, even the World Health Organization (WHO) – usually a cheerleader for greater alcohol restrictions – found in a 2018 report that, “The consumption of low-to-moderate amounts of alcohol reduces the risk of diabetes mellitus due to improved insulin sensitivity.” The WHO report also found that, “alcohol had a net protective effect on ischemic strokes, preventing 33,000 ischemic stroke deaths and 0.9 million ischemic stroke DALYs [disability-adjusted life years] globally.” And, the DGAC relied on the results of just one study in halving the recommended drink limit. Experts should respond with caution to this dearth of evidence on specific drinking levels, rather than moving forward with sweeping conclusions that could form the basis of public policy.
Clearly, the evidence is more complicated than a simple, linear relationship between alcohol and health problems. It is imperative that the DGAC take all the evidence into account and qualify its conclusions with a discussion on the preponderance of scientific evidence on the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.
Policymakers across the country must have up-to-date and balanced information from the USDA and HHS before moving forward with onerous policies that succeed only in scaremongering. Just as DGAC recognized the error of its faulty fat recommendations, it must also reverse course with its alcohol alarmism. Diet and drinking recommendations should be based on the evidence, not the whims of bureaucrats.
Ross Marchand is a senior fellow for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.