Editorials

Festive cheer for all?

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.315.7123.1638 (Published 20 December 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1638

Headaches for alcohol policymakers

  1. Ian R White, Lecturer in medical statisticsa,
  2. Martin McKee, Professor of European public healtha
  1. a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT

Christmas and alcohol are inextricably linked. But the evidence based party goer has to weigh up a complex body of research. Like smoking, heavy drinking increases the risk of death from many causes. However, as Sir Richard Doll points out on page 1664, there is now convincing evidence that one can reduce one's risk of heart disease by drinking a moderate amount each day in middle and old age.1

For many people the emphasis on cardioprotective effects may bring reassurance, and for some this will be justified. For most people, however, the relevant comparison is not with non-drinkers but with “safe” drinkers.2 From this viewpoint the excess of coronary heart disease deaths in non-drinkers is likely to be smaller than the excess of deaths from other causes in heavy drinkers. Furthermore, media euphoria over the cardioprotective effect obscures …

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