Photo: Chris Young The Canadian Press Despite the conclusions of a study published a year ago, Health Canada continues to suggest an alcohol limit of 10 to 15 drinks per week.
Health Canada has still not changed its recommended alcohol consumption limits and refuses to say whether it intends to do so, a year after the release of a report asking it to lower them radically.
“The science is evolving and recommendations on alcohol consumption must change,” reads the summary of a shattering report from the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA). ) who will celebrate his first birthday next Tuesday.
The study published on January 16, 2023 models 16 scientific studies to conclude that even low alcohol consumption increases the risk of diseases, including cancer, but also of accidents or suicide, beyond just two drinks per week . Therefore, “drinking less is better”.
The approach proposed by the new “benchmarks” on alcohol marks a profound break with Health Canada's existing recommendations, which rather target heavy drinkers and excessive alcohol consumption, depending on the gender. The ministry commissioned this report at a cost of $1.5 million specifically to update its guidelines.
However, almost a year later, Health Canada still officially advises beer, wine and spirits lovers on its website the same consumption limits in effect for more than a decade. It is suggested not to exceed two glasses of alcohol per day for women (maximum 10/week) and three for men (15/week), provided you do not drink on certain days. Such consumption is found well beyond the red zone defined by the CCDUS.
Reflection on communication
The new alcohol “benchmarks” blur the difference between men and women in terms of risk thresholds. According to the authors' calculations, all alcohol consumers find themselves in the final category of “highest risk” for health as soon as they exceed six drinks per week. A “low risk” exists after drinking one to two standard drinks per week.
The new approach recommends against all alcohol consumption for pregnant women, a point also included in previous guidelines.
After the publication of its report, the CCSA was granted an additional two million dollars to advise the federal government on ways to communicate the risks and harms of alcohol. Halfway through the end of the contract, which ends in 2025, it was unclear whether it is advised to update the government website, which still has the old guidelines.
Relaunched by Le DevoirOn six occasions between July 2023 and January 2024, Health Canada was stingy with clues as to the fate of the alcohol guidelines posted on its website.
“Rest assured that the Government of Canada will notify the people of Canada when a decision on this subject is ready to be announced,” responds its media relations department, in an email.
The institution justifies the delay by its need to “consult Canadians and [its] health partners”, without indicating a deadline or other details on these consultations which were never announced and which are not documented on its website.
Le Devoirreported last year that the work of some authors in the CCSA study is being featured by the abstinence activist group Movendi International, formerly known as the Independent Order of the Good Templars. International and Quebec researchers have also questioned the methodology and philosophy of the report, while the CCSA retorts that it is rather its critics who are guilty of bias on the issue.
The Canadian alcoholic beverage industry responded to the CCUS publication by commissioning a survey from the firm Abacus Data, which concluded in June 2023 that the inconsistency between the official standards and the new “landmarks” creates confusion among the public. The website dedicated to the new “benchmarks” also remains silent on the fact that Health Canada has not updated Canada's official guidelines, themselves born from a previous CCSA study dating back to 2011.
In an email, the CCSA congratulates itself on the contrary that its main message on alcohol was supported by an editorial in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, written by two doctors from English Canada. “We listen to provincial governments, health sector partners and communities to find out the most important needs,” explains its spokesperson, Wendy Schlachta. The center's work now involves organizing “round tables with these partners from across the country” to adapt communication about alcohol risks.