Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

The Dietary Guidelines and Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have an opportunity to reiterate vital guidance on moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages with the coming new edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

USDA and HHS are putting the final touches on the new Guidelines, which are revised and published every 5 years. The 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines (at pps. 21 & 30-32) provided clear, specific and science-based guidance on moderate drinking. It establishes:

  • The fact that moderate drinking can be part of a healthy lifestyle for some Americans;
  • The definition of “moderate drinking” as no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women;
  • The fact that 1.5 fl oz of spirits (40% alcohol), 12 fl oz of regular beer (5% alcohol) and 5 oz of wine (12% alcohol) all meet the definition of a drink; and
  • The fact that a drink contains 0.6 fl oz of pure alcohol, whether in beer, wine or spirits.

Unfortunately, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report, released in February, falls short. The “moderate drinking” definition is relegated to a glossary, and it provides a less specific definition of a drink. Furthermore, presentation of the fact that a standard drink, whether beer, wine or spirits, contains 0.6 fl oz of pure alcohol, is not mentioned in the 2015 scientific report.

The Dietary Guidelines guidance on moderate drinking must be specific enough for consumers to easily understand how their drinking compares to the Guidelines’ moderate drinking advice. The final document for consumers must be revised to reflect the additional information about a standard drink contained in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines report regarding moderate drinking. The key formulation of “up to one drink/two drinks per day” for moderate drinking makes little sense without a clear definitional reference point within the Dietary Guidelines as to what constitutes a drink.

The “standard drink” definition has been endorsed and utilized by numerous federal agencies and consumer and health organizations, including the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Consumers League and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  It also forms the basis for discussions of drinking and driving in the vast majority of state driver’s license manuals. Any departure from the 2010 Guidelines’ presentation of alcohol facts and advice would undermine the efforts of all of those organizations to promote responsible drinking among those adults who choose to drink.

More From


Subscribe to receive OFW’s Food & Agriculture World Insights Newsletter.