by Bob Barr
The Nanny State has survived wars, economic downturns and election upheavals. It has shown itself stronger even than a major, worldwide pandemic. From semi-reasonable mandates such as requiring masks when in large groups, to the absurd, such as wearing a mask while walking alone with your dog, Nanny State regulators at all levels of government have been busy little bees during this coronavirus pandemic.
Not satisfied with limiting its intrusive meddling to measures at least marginally related to the pandemic, however, Big Brother now has focused its attention on social drinking — working to stop responsible adults from having a couple of drinks with dinner or during happy hour on occasion.
The vehicle for this latest nosiness is the drafting of new 2020 Dietary Guidelines by a government advisory committee. These dietary busy bodies are recommending that adults should not consume more than one drink per day. As with many federal “guidelines,” this latest compendium contradicts earlier versions, setting a standard that is 50% lower for men. A closer look at the make-up of the advisory committee hints at why the proposed guidelines are more draconian than its predecessor.
Timothy Naimi, an alcohol researcher on the Advisory Committee, appears to be leading the committee’s crackdown on accountable drinking by adult men and women. He has publicly defended the questionable goal, going so far as to warn the American people against having a couple of drinks after days of no-drinking activity. His comments suggest that every responsible man or woman who may like to unwind with more than one drink every so often is not only putting their own health at risk, but endangering society at large.
Naimi is an advocate of increased alcohol sales restrictions and taxes and a well-known adversary of the alcohol industry. It should come as no surprise therefore that the new government guidelines he helped devise appear based more on the lifestyle choices, opinions, and ideological worldview of one school of thought than they are on scientific facts and evidence. In fact, even a cursory reading of the text of this new report demonstrates that it has few data-driven legs to stand on.
By their own admission, they state that the drinking levels in the previous Dietary Guidelines “constitute reasonably low risk” and that “most studies found lower risk among men consuming within ranges up to 2 drinks per day.” However, they claim that by a mere “preponderance” of evidence they have discovered, men and women should only have one drink a day; hardly convincing. Their conclusion is weakened further considering that the document states that only a single study examined the difference between men consuming one or two drinks per day.
The lack of factual, empirical data for the committee’s recommendations would be quickly discounted if in fact it was subject to rigorous scientific methodology. But for Nanny State adherents like Naimi, what counts most are conclusions that support government power to intervene in private and commercial transactions and decision-making. To call the evidence on which this group has relied “conclusive” would be laughable but for the likelihood that, like numerous other government-funded studies, sooner or later it will fuel regulatory edicts with significant economic ramifications for the industry affected.
Apparently cognizant that their report would draw scrutiny, Naimi and his colleagues devote an entire concluding section to answering the question, “Why is tightening recommendations for men justified?” The authors claim that, although incidents such as motor vehicle crashes, falls and violence typically occur at higher levels of consumption, the “risk increases above zero drinks,” so the American people should therefore impose greater limitations on themselves.
This line of reasoning is akin to arguing that the government should reduce highway speed limit from 55 miles per hour to 54 simply because “the faster the speed, the more harm can potentially come.” The myopic logic fueling this report also ignores the negative consequences that can come from driving too slowly, just as the proposed 2020 Guidelines ignore the benefits that people may receive from moderate drinking, including reduced risk of strokes and heart disease.
The report would have little if any practical value at any time, but especially in these pandemic-stressed times, it makes no sense whatsoever and, if followed, will lead to significant harm to individuals and to an industry already hit hard by pandemic-based restrictions.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and served as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.