Drinks trade backs $100m study on ‘drink a day’ advice

The US-based National Institutes of Health (NIH) is to launch a six-year long clinical study at a cost of US$100 million, backed by the drinks industry, that it hopes will once and for all settle the issue over whether a drink a day is good for you and could even prevent heart attacks.

Five global drinks companies have pledged $67.7m to help fun the study

Over the years alcohol has been linked to as many health benefits as it has harms, with some researchers claiming that moderate drinking could be beneficial to you health, reducing the risk of heart disease, stokes, and obesity, with others finding the opposite.

Earlier this year, researchers at Cambridge University and University College London found moderate drinkers to have a lower risk of diseases such as heart attack, angina and heart failure compared with teetotallers. Described as the “most comprehensive study to date”, the health records of nearly two million people from the ‘Cardiovascular research using Linked Bespoke studies and Electronic health Records’ (CALIBER) programme were used in the research.

However, equally, many studies have denounced the health benefits of alcohol consumption, giving consumers a mixed view on the true cost of their alcohol consumption.

While red, and antioxidant resveratrol – found in red grape skins – which long been credited for protecting against everything from obesity to heart disease, other research has concluded that its health benefits had been over blown, calling the hype surround the compound a “myth”.

‘This study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry’

Now, according to a report by the New York Times, five global drinks companies, including Diageo, Pernod Ricard, AB InBev, Heineken and Carlsberg, are backing one of the largest studies ever undertaken to determine the impact of moderate drinking, pledging $67.7m to the cause.

The study will be carried out by the National Institutes of Health and overseen by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and will see 8,000 participants aged over 50 from across the world monitored over a six year period. All participants will have either cardiovascular disease, or be at high risk of developing it, with problem drinkers and individuals who have never consumed alcohol ineligible.

Participants will be randomly asked to either abstain from alcohol altogether, or to drink a single alcoholic beverage of their choice every day, with researchers then collating the data at the end of the study to see which group suffered more heart attacks, strokes and deaths.

For the purposes of this trial, moderate drinking is defined as one serving a day of either 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

While the study has been largely funded by the trade, raising concern that it might not be fully independent, George F. Koob, the director of the alcohol institute, told the NY Times that the study would be “immune from industry influence”, calling it an unbiased test of whether alcohol “in moderation” protects against heart disease.

“This study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry, and they’re going to have to live with it,” he said. “The money from the Foundation for the NIH. has no strings attached. Whoever donates to that fund has no leverage whatsoever – no contribution to the study, no input to the study, no say whatsoever.”

‘Ambitious scale’

The study will be run from a hub at Harvard’s School of Public Health in Boston, with satellite hubs in cities including Baltimore, Copenhagen and Barcelona.

Speaking to the NY Times, Sandrine Ricard, deputy director for corporate social responsibility for Pernod Ricard, said it had pledged funds to the study because of its ambitious scale, adding that the trade will  “have no say” and “doesn’t want to have any say” in the research.

“We’re hoping the results nevertheless are going to be good,” she said. “And we’re optimistic they will be.”

Gemma R. Hart, vice president for communications at Anheuser-Busch, added: “Our role is limited entirely to the funding we provided. We have no role in the study. We will learn the outcome of the study when everybody else does.”

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