Any level of drinking can lead to loss of healthy life, the World Heart Federation has said, as it sought to dispel the idea that a daily glass of wine may be good for you.
In a new policy briefing, the organisation said it wanted to “challenge the widespread notion” that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can decrease the risk of heart disease and called for urgent action to tackle the global rise in deaths caused by drinking.
Monika Arora, member of WHF’s advocacy committee and co-author of the briefing, said: “The portrayal of alcohol as necessary for a vibrant social life has diverted attention from the harms of alcohol use, as have the frequent and widely publicised claims that moderate drinking, such as a glass of red wine a day, can offer protection against cardiovascular disease.
“These claims are at best misinformed and at worst an attempt by the alcohol industry to mislead the public about the danger of their product.” It comes after the Royal College of Psychiatrists warned earlier this week that millions of Britons are causing themselves “silent harm” through hazardous drinking.
Professor Julia Sinclair, chair of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the switch to drinking at home was partly to blame for the rise, with drinking sessions sometimes lasting several hours longer than they would in a pub.
According to the new briefing from the World Heart Federation, more than 2.4 million people died worldwide because of alcohol in 2019.
This is equivalent to 4.3% of all deaths globally and 12.6% of deaths in men aged 15 to 49, it said.
The federation, which is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working with the World Health Organisation (WHO), said alcohol is a “psychoactive and harmful substance that can cause significant damage to the human body”.
It said that drinking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, digestive diseases and injury.
“The evidence is clear: any level of alcohol consumption can lead to loss of healthy life,” it said.
“Studies have shown that even small amounts of alcohol can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary disease, stroke, heart failure, hypertensive heart disease, cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), and aneurysm.
“Studies that claim otherwise are based on purely observational research, which fails to account for other factors, such as pre-existing conditions and a history of alcoholism in those considered to be ‘abstinent’.
“To date, no reliable correlation has been found between moderate alcohol consumption and a lower risk of heart disease.” Matt Lambert, chief executive of the Portman Group, which receives funding from the drinks industry and has firms signed up to its code of practice, said: “It is important not to exaggerate the risk of moderate drinking and unduly alarm responsible consumers who are more than able to make informed decisions and enjoy alcohol sensibly if they chose to do so.
“Responsible drinking forms part of a balanced lifestyle for the moderate majority, the four in five adults drinking within the chief medical officer’s 14 unit a week low-risk guidelines or not drinking at all.
“We continue to review the studies with interest, and there is a body of evidence suggesting a low level of risk for low-to-moderate drinkers.
“However, we recognise that everyone’s circumstances are different and for some people there is no safe level of drinking, we therefore encourage consumers to take a sensible and measured approach to risk.
“Through the Portman Group Code of Practice we have ensured that for over 25 years alcohol producers do not make health claims in its their marketing and packaging.”