Alcohol's 'Health Halo' Is Losing Its Luster

Slate digs into the shifting sentiment, offers context for those who imbibe
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2023 10:30 AM CDT
Alcohol's 'Health Halo' Is Finally Fading
Stock photo.   (Getty/kuppa_rock)

Those who drink alcohol might well be "feeling a fair bit of whiplash" these days, writes Tim Requarth at Slate. Starting in the 1990s, the consensus of health studies suggested that moderate drinking—a glass of red wine at dinner, say—was good for you. But now the consensus seems to have shifted to advise that we shouldn't have even a single drop. "If you're anything like me, you are greeting this most unfun of news with mild dismay but also great confusion," writes Requarth, who does a deep dive into the subject to provide context. He traces the it's-good-for-you-movement to an influential 60 Minutes segment in 1991 during which alcohol researcher Serge Renaud asserted that the reason French people had lower rates of heart problems than Americans—even though both consumed high-fat diets—was their consumption of alcohol.

This "French paradox" took hold, alcohol sales surged, and a spate of studies emerged to back the assertion. Requarth digs into the flaws of those studies, and he also lays out how the alcohol industry's fingerprints are all over the research (and the sentiment that the real problem is alcoholism, which affects a relative few). So in the light of this shifting sentiment, should you become a teetotaler? Maybe not. "Alcohol, especially wine, has basked in the warm glow of what industry insiders call a 'health halo,'" writes Requarth. "Consumers not only think it's relatively harmless (which is true at low levels) but also actively beneficial (which is likely false)." What we're experiencing now is the "fading of this radiant aura, rather than signaling a return to Prohibition." He quotes a researcher who sums up: "The main message is not that drinking is bad. It's that drinking isn't good. Those are two different things." Read the full story. (Or check out other notable Longform stories.)

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