It seems that the new guidelines for safe consumption of alcohol have struck a nerve with Canadians. The amount of faulty information and faulty logic that has been circulating along with the guidelines is almost beyond belief. The first step in understanding the guidelines is going directly to the source: Update of Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines: Summary of Findings from Public Consultation.
The purpose of the guidelines is to provide factual information to help Canadians informed decisions about how much risk they are prepared to take with regards to alcohol consumption. Canada’s previous guidelines as well as the guidelines for other countries were based on a higher level of risk, as much as a 1 in 100 risk of premature death, compared with the new guidelines that quantify the risk. The risk associated with drinking 2 or fewer standard drinks per week is low or less than 1 in 1,000. The risk associated with drinking up to 6 alcoholic beverages per week is moderate. And the risk of drinking more than 6 standard drinks is high and increases with every extra drink.
My informal environmental scan tells me that people are somewhat fixated on the increased risk of cancer. However, the report discusses all risks associated with alcohol consumption including:
- cancer (breast, colon, rectum, moth, throat, liver, esophagus and larynx.)
- heart disease – recent data shows that drinking in moderation neither reduces (as previously reported) or increases the risk of heart disease but above the low-risk guidelines, alcohol is a risk factor for coronary artery diseases, heart attacks, heart failure, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and stroke.
- inflammation of the gastrointestinal system
- unintentional injuries,
- alcohol used disorders.
These risks increase more steeply for women who exceed low-risk level consumption.
The report suggests that the government should introduce policies that will moderate drinking levels. They suggest:
- regulating advertising and marketing;
- restricting availably of alcohol
- adopting minimum pricing for alcohol.
The policy prioritized by the guidelines is for better labeling of alcoholic beverages, making it easier for Canadians to know how many standard drinks they are consuming. A standard drink contains 13.6 g of alcohol. This means that the 473 (tall boy) can of beer with 6.5 ABV (alcohol by volume) actually contains 1.8 standard drinks, while the same volume drink with 3.5% ABV contains just under 1 standard drink (.97). A regular can (355 ml) of light beer (4% ABV) contains just .83 standard drinks. Until the packaging recommendation comes into effect, you can find out how many standard drinks are in your bottle, can or glass using an on-line converter such as this.
One of the biggest concerns being circulated about these guidelines is the impact of changed guidelines on imported alcohol. However, every country has different requirements for labeling and Australia and New Zealand already require the labels to identify how many standard drinks the container holds.
Nothing about this report required that Canadians make changes to their drinking habits. The report provides information that allows each of us to decide how much we will drink and to have access to information about the risks associated with the decision.
Don’t miss this month’s survey which will ask about your thoughts on these guidelines.