Thursday, March 4, 2010

The politics of drinking: is there room for moderation?

Much political hay has been made after President Obama’s recent physical exam, with the doctor’s recommendation of “moderation of alcohol intake.” The polarized lens through which American political debate is viewed sees this as an indictment of the president’s drinking habits, as though any level of alcohol consumption sets a bad example, and there is no middle ground between alcohol abuse and abstinence. But as we know, at least in the case of wine, the healthiest place to be is moderate drinking (see “modern view of moderation” posted February 15.) Abstinence and excess share the same risk profile for heart disease and many other conditions; it’s the moderates who are the clear winners here, but I will leave it up to you to interpret the political parallels.
The president’s cholesterol has been creeping up too, and dietary changes were recommended. Here’s where the opportunity for what is called these days a “teachable moment” was missed. Moderate drinking, especially wine with meals, is one of the more effective means of improving cholesterol profiles. In fact, in the words of Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, Professor of Medicine and Public Health at Boston University School of Medicine, “…only stopping smoking would have a larger beneficial effect on heart disease than for a non-drinker to begin having a drink or two each day.” But our government has a long and proud tradition of suppressing information about healthful drinking, as I describe in my book.
See the full report on the president’s exam here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/release-presidents-medical-exam.

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