NHMRC on draft drinking guidelines

24 February, 2020 by Andy Young

In his recent column for National Liquor News, Alcohol Beverages Australia CEO Andrew Wilsmore questioned “How can we trust the draft drinking guidelines?“, NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso AO, has responded.

Yes, you can trust the draft alcohol guidelines

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The draft guidelines for reducing health risks from drinking alcohol have been developed with the same rigour that the National Health and Medical Research Council brings to all its advice to the community.

NHMRC has a long history of providing advice to Australians on a wide range of health matters including nutrition, infant feeding, infection control, blood lead levels, drinking water quality and the health effects of fluoridating drinking water.

We also invest over $800m dollars a year in research to improve the health of all Australians.

In December we released draft revised guidelines on reducing the health risks from drinking alcohol. The guidelines were developed by a group of 14 leading clinicians, public health experts and researchers as well as a community representative. Organisations representing the alcohol industry were also invited to nominate experts to join the working group. They declined to do so.

The draft guidelines were reviewed by the NHMRC Council which includes the Chief Medical and Health Officers of the Commonwealth, States and Territories. These are the same trusted doctors who are today focused on protecting Australia from coronavirus.

The guidelines are not based on any single piece of research. The three-year revision process has included:

  • analysis of thousands of scientific papers studying millions of people over many decades
  • a public call for evidence on the benefits as well as the harms of alcohol
  • mathematical modelling of the health effects of alcohol and different levels of consumption.

In 2017 there were more than 4000 deaths and about 70,000 hospital admissions related to alcohol.

So, it is critically important that the Australian community has clear, evidence-based guidelines to help us make informed decisions in our daily lives.

The recommendations acknowledge the increased body of evidence of the links between alcohol and cancer. They also allow for a possible protective effect of low-level consumption of alcohol, although the evidence for this protective effect is limited.

The draft guideline recommendations are:
1.      Healthy men and women:
To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury for healthy men and women, drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm. ​For some people not drinking at all is the safest option.
2.      Children and young people:
To reduce the risk of injury and other harms to health, children and young people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol.
3.      Pregnancy and breastfeeding:
To reduce the risk of harm to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.

We encourage everyone to find out more about the guidelines and the evidence that underpins them at www.nhmrc.gov.au/alcohol.