At issue | March 30 commentary by Daniel M. Saman and Jessica S. Gregory, "Cheers: Brew beats Dew for health"
By Angela Criswell
The March 30 commentary contrasts dental decay and obesity caused by Mountain Dew with positive health benefits from moderate alcohol consumption, and concludes that alcohol should be the preferred beverage for adults while kids should drink water and low-sugar drinks, "at least for now."
Leaving aside concerns raised by the "at least for now" qualifier (Why not say, "until they are 21"?), the authors' argument is a drastic oversimplification.
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They question why abstainers don't drink, proclaiming that adults should choose alcohol in moderation over soda "without misgivings." Nearly 61 percent of Kentuckians abstain from alcohol for various reasons such as a family history of alcoholism or being personally in recovery, a particular faith tradition, the use of medications that cannot be combined with alcohol or simple dislike for the taste.
For many, it isn't just a matter of "misgivings," which the authors imply are unfounded or based on a lack of knowledge, but rather it is a deliberately made or even an absolutely necessary life choice.
And the choice of drinking alcohol over a soda isn't simply the replacement of one for the other as the authors maintain. Consider the issues of time, place and context. Soda is an appropriate choice in many more settings than is alcohol because alcohol is intoxicating — an important attribute which the authors somehow ignore.
Nor do the authors address how much soda is actually being consumed. Do soda drinkers who are at risk for dental decay and obesity due to immoderate soda consumption demonstrate they would easily begin to drink more moderately when substituting juice, low-sugar drinks or — dangerously — alcohol?
Moderate alcohol consumption — or an average of two drinks per day for men and one for women — is presented as if it were an easily achievable norm. In reality, most alcohol isn't consumed moderately. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control notes over half the alcohol drunk by U.S. adults is consumed when bingeing (five or more drinks for men, four for women).
Data from the Kentucky Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System 2009 survey shows that, while a lower percentage of Kentuckians report engaging in binge drinking than the national average (12.4 percent versus 15.8 percent), we have crept upward by nearly four percentage points since 2007 while the national rate has remained constant.
Here's the rub: While adult moderate drinking can bring health benefits, you cannot save up your daily servings of alcohol and consume them in a binge on the weekend and then expect any health benefit.
Not to diminish the importance of dental decay and obesity that the authors attribute to sodas, but the consequences from immoderate alcohol consumption are even more imminently life threatening.
The World Health Organization notes that "alcohol consumption is the world's third-largest risk factor for disease and disability" and for men "is the leading risk factor for death ... mainly due to injuries, violence and cardiovascular diseases." And it isn't just the immoderate drinkers who are impacted by this harm but also family, friends, co-workers and even strangers.
The authors presented an incomplete comparison that is attention-grabbing but irresponsible. Surely it was an ill-advised April Fool's joke.