How can we trust the Draft Drinking Guidelines?

20 February, 2020 by Deborah Jackson

Late last year, right before the holiday break, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released their draft Australian Guidelines for Reducing the Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol after a three-year review process. 

The Alcohol Working Committee (AWC), appointed to review the guidelines, contain a number who are demonstrably not independent. For example – one is a Board member of a Temperance organisation, another has dedicated her research life to disproving benefits of moderate consumption, and another is a former Board member of the anti-alcohol Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).

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Despite raising concerns with the NHMRC CEO about these conflicts, and highlighting further undeclared interests, nothing has been done to remove these members (under the NHMRC Act [1992], the CEO is compelled to dismiss members who fail to declare interests).

What has happened?

In 2001, the Guidelines recommended 28 units per week for men and 14 for women to reduce risk of long-term harm. The 2009 revision reduced this to 14 for both men and women. And if you believed the spin from the NHMRC, you might be led to believe they are now recommending a reduction to just 10 drinks a week.

The hidden truth is that the modelling (which is itself highly questionable) actually shows an increase in standard drinks per day based on an individual’s current drinking behaviour, and large differences in advice for men and women.

This critical information is buried in page 30 of the Guidelines and best explained in the pictured infographic:

  • This graphic shows that if you are a man and drink daily, you can drink up to 20.2 drinks a week. For women, if they drink daily, they can have 15.3 standard drinks a week. For both men and women this is an increase on the previous advice of no more than two a day (14 in a week).
  • Where does the 10 come from for both men and women? They deliberately selected the guideline based on a woman drinking three days a week and rounded down.

What happens next?

Submissions to the Draft guidelines are due on 24 February. ABA will be encouraging the NHMRC to be honest with the Australian people and provide them information relevant to their own drinking behaviours, rather than a dumbed down one size fits all approach. This would allow Australians to make fully informed choices and maximise public health outcomes.

This article was written by Alcohol Beverages Australia CEO Andrew Wilsmore for the March issue of National Liquor News.

Click here to see the NHMRC’s response to this article.