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Alcohol-Health Link Reconfirmed

October 2011
by Jim Gordon
CLICK PHOTO TO PLAY VIDEO: Editor Jim Gordon discusses new CDC findings on the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.

The long-known but long-downplayed connection between wine and health has been validated again. This time it was confirmed by no less an authority than the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recently published results of a study that stressed moderate alcohol consumption as one of four low-risk lifestyle behaviors that can have a very positive effect on people’s mortality—in other words, how long they live.

Good news about wine and health has been circulating for more than 20 years, and various studies have linked moderate wine consumption to people who live longer. So the nugget of the announcement by the CDC was not startling. What really got my attention was that almost no one thought it deserved attention.

The study received minimal media coverage. The news reached Wines & Vines via a press release from the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., trying to spread interest in the CDC study.

Statement so strong
My perspective was that a statement so strong about alcohol and good health coming from a federal agency—and barely causing a ripple—shows how far our American culture has come. Remember, the United States banned alcoholic beverages for more than a decade beginning in 1920. Until the 1990s it was politically incorrect to speak about drinking as a good thing in any way, shape or form.

Roughly 30% of U.S. adults today still don’t drink alcohol due to religious or personal beliefs and tastes. So for a public agency to affirm so clearly that alcohol in moderation is good for one’s longevity is a turning point worth celebrating.

Here are the four healthy behaviors that the CDC says are associated with living longer:

• having never smoked,
• eating a healthy diet,
• getting regular physical activity,
• moderate alcohol consumption.

We all knew already that smoking was bad, and that a healthy diet and regular exercise were good. But now, we also know that moderate alcohol consumption is in the same league as these other obviously healthy habits.

The CDC study concludes that people who do all four of these things live 11 years longer on average than people who don’t. The study doesn’t make a distinction between people who drink wine vs. beer or distilled spirits.

The study, “Low Risk Lifestyle Behaviors and All-Cause Mortality: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III Mortality Study,” was published online recently in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers analyzed data from 16,958 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III Mortality Study from 1988 to 2006.

Each choice of lifestyle behavior was found to be significant by itself, but the greatest benefit was when moderate alcohol consumption was combined with the other three behaviors. The researchers cited a number of studies reporting potential health benefits associated with moderate alcohol consumption including reduced all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The researchers also cited “the well-documented harm caused by excessive alcohol use.”

Reluctant to embrace
One section in the CDC’s own news release about the study said: “This study adds to the mounting evidence of the substantial gain in life associated with healthy behaviors and underscores the need for the clinical and public health communities to work together to promote greater adoption of these behaviors.”

This sounds like a subtle endorsement by the CDC of alcohol consumption as a healthy behavior. Most past statements by public health agencies have stressed the need to be moderate, as if everyone drank too much already. I am not a lawyer, but I think this new study encourages health professionals to suggest that drinking is better for you than not drinking, if you want to live a long and healthy life.

All of us in the wine industry can drink to that—moderately, of course!

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