Monday, May 2, 2011

New Heart Association Survey on wine: Why are Americans confused about healthy drinking?

The American Heart Association recently released the results of a survey of Americans on their knowledge of healthy drinking and consumption of sea salt. No surprise, they concluded that we have it all wrong. On the plus side, two thirds agreed with the statement that wine is good for the heart, but less than one third know the AHA’s recommended limits of a daily glass or two for men and no more than one for women. The survey showed that “we need to do a better job of educating people about the heart-health risks of overconsumption of wine” according to a spokesperson.


I say bless their hearts but their paternalistic message only adds to the confusion. For starters, they don’t even have their definitions right, which is a 5-ounce pour as the standard on which research and policymakers have long agreed, but the AHA cuts it back to 4. Granted, they have come a long way since the mid 1990’s when the official policy grudgingly acknowledged that a glass or two a day “might be considered safe” while hastening to add a disclaimer about all of the social ills attributed to alcohol consumption. But these problems are associated with excess and problem drinking, not a glass or two or even three with a leisurely dinner. What statistics consistently show is that wine with dinner is among the most powerful contributors to health.

Part of the problem is the narrow focus on heart health, which we can forgive to some degree for the AHA but it leads to an incomplete picture of the broader benefits of healthy drinking. When consumed with meals, up to 3 glasses for a man and about half that for a woman is associated with the greatest reduction in health problems across the board leading to longer lifespan and a higher quality of life, especially in old age.

Just as interesting to me is the comments that follow the various news postings about the study. It would seem that we are even more confused about wine and health now as ever, judging from remarks suggesting that red grape juice has the same benefits as wine without the alcohol.

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