I don’t post much about the health effects of wine because I don’t know what to think about the issue. There have been lots of well-publicized stories about positive health effects of moderate red wine consumption. But these are often small studies or large studies with lots of confounding variables that are hard to control. Research in health outcomes is just very hard to do well and so I’m reluctant to jump on bandwagons.
But this recent story about the British government’s take on the whole issue is interesting.
England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has effectively rubbished studies on the potential health benefits of drinking red wine, following new government guidance that there is no safe level of drinking.
Risks outweigh any potential gain, according to the first full review of alcohol guidelines for England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1995. Scotland also set the same limit.
This runs counter to almost every study that has been done over the last 20 years in this area. So what is going on?
According to Andrew Jeffords, wine writer for Decanter, its all about business—the business of whiskey and beer.
The British government — and Britain, it should be noted, has a tiny wine sector but a large beer sector and an enormous whisky and gin sector — resolutely refuses to distinguish between different forms of alcohol in respect of health.
Jeffords argues that there is no new evidence provided by government researchers. They simply refuse to credit the interpretation of the existing data that suggests wine drinking wine improves health. The improved health of wine drinkers is not the result of wine they argue but is instead the result of wine drinkers’ generally healthy lifestyles. Being generally healthy is somehow causing us to drink wine; its not the wine drinking that causes the good health, according to health officials.
Jeffords not too subtly suggests its because of the political influence of whiskey and beer manufacturers.
Perhaps he is right. It wouldn’t be the first time that science is distorted by commercial interests.
But maybe its a re-emergence of straitlaced Victorian moralistic attitudes coming to the surface. It does seem too good to be true that wine is good for you. A certain kind of prig just hopes it’s not true.