Five years ago, the National Institutes of Health abruptly canceled an ambitious study on the health effects of moderate alcohol consumption. The reason: The trial’s lead scientist and officials from the federal agency’s own alcohol division had requested $60 million for research from alcohol makers, a conflict of interest and a violation of federal policy.
Recently, that scientist and another colleague from the aborted study with ties to the alcohol industry were named to a committee preparing a report on alcohol and health that will be used to update the federal government’s guidelines on alcohol consumption.
He appointments of the two men, Dr. Kenneth Mukamal and Dr. Eric Rimm, both of Harvard, have not yet been finalized, Megan Lowry, a spokeswoman for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, whose food and nutrition board formed the committee, said this week. to a query from the New York Times. The members of the The public can submit comments on the interim appointments. until Wednesday, December 6.
Less than an hour after this article was published, Ms. Lowry emailed to say that the academies had decided not to include Dr. Mukamal and Dr. Rimm on the panel.
“After considering the public comments that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have received on the provisional appointees for a committee that will review the evidence of the health effects of alcohol, Eric B. Rimm and Kenneth J. Mukamal no longer are being considered. to serve on the committee,” Ms. Lowry wrote.
Dr. Rimm, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, who said in various financial disclosures who had accepted money from the alcohol industry, had been appointed to chair the committee.
Many public health researchers were outraged at the prospect of men influencing a process that would result in official guidance on alcohol consumption.
“It’s like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse,” said Dr. Michael Siegel, a public health researcher and visiting professor at Tufts University School of Medicine.
The NIH, the nation’s top medical research agency, had suspended the $100 million study, which was to be a decade-long international clinical trial on moderate alcohol consumption, after learning that Institute officials National Committee on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism had put pressure on beer and liquor. companies to fund the trial and that Dr. Mukamal had attended industry meetings where he described the proposed trial and indicated that the results would support moderate alcohol consumption. Dr Mukamal denied any wrongdoing at the time and said he had never received industry funding.
An internal NIH investigation into the matter suggested that the trial had been designed in a way that biased the study in favor of showing a beneficial effect of moderate alcohol consumption.
Dr. Rimm has long expressed the opinion that drinking in moderation protects against heart disease. Last month, he told about science and nutrition. podcast that people could reduce their risk of heart disease by changing their behaviors and Eat a healthy diet that includes “a little alcohol.”
When asked to comment, Dr Rimm said it was premature because the appointments were not final. Dr. Mukamal did not respond to a request for comment.
The new panel will review evidence on the relationship between alcohol consumption and a variety of health problems, including obesity, cancer, heart disease, cognitive health and all-cause mortality. It will also examine the effects of drinking while breastfeeding, including the impact on postpartum weight loss; composition and quantity of milk; and child development.
Although moderate wine consumption (especially wine, especially red wine) has long enjoyed something of a health halo, more rigorous research in recent years and concerns about bias in industry-funded research have raised questions about the declared benefits.
Oncologists say even light drinking can slightly increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer and also increase the risk of a common type of esophageal cancer, while heavy drinkers face much higher risks of mouth and throat cancer, larynx and liver cancer. and, to a lesser extent, colorectal cancers.
In 2020, when the US dietary guidelines were last updated, the government rejected the advice of its scientific advisers to set lower targets for alcohol consumption. Citing a growing body of evidence that consuming higher amounts of alcohol is linked to a higher risk of death, the scientists wanted the guidelines to recommend daily alcohol consumption of no more than one drink a day for both men and women, in place of the two current ones. Drinks a day for men and one a day for women.
Canadian health officials radically revised their drinking guidelines earlier this year, declaring that no amount of alcohol consumption is healthy and recommending that people reduce alcohol consumption as much as possible. The new guidelines were a major change from previous guidelines, which recommended that women consume no more than 10 drinks per week and men limit themselves to 15.
The new panel that will review evidence for the U.S. government will operate under the auspices of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, a nongovernmental body to which Congress appropriated $1.3 million to do the work.
Over time, the Department of Health and Human Services will oversee updating federal nutritional guidelines for both food and alcohol. But the legislation that allocated the funds says the Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for ensuring that “the process is fully transparent and includes balanced representation of impartial people free of conflicts of interest.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of HHS, will consider the committee’s report when it makes its recommendations on how much alcohol American adults should drink in the next edition of the dietary guidelines, according to Joellen Leavelle, a spokesperson for the HHS health promotion and communications division.