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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Harvard Finds that Benefits of Moderate Alcohol Consumption May Vary by Race, Gender

Although moderate alcohol consumption appears to lower mortality risk among whites, it may not have the same protective effect among Blacks, and its potential benefits also may vary by gender, according to a nationally representative study of the U.S. population by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published online April 23 in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Current dietary guidelines recommend moderate consumption for adult Americans who consume alcoholic beverages. Our study suggests that additional refinements based on race/ethnicity may be necessary,” said Dr. Chandra Jackson, research associate in the Harvard Chan department of epidemiology, research associate in clinical and translational research at Harvard Medical School, and lead author of the study.

Previous research has found an association between moderate drinking and lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and premature mortality, but those studies were conducted among mostly white populations, and some studies have suggested that Blacks may not experience similar risk reduction.

The new study looked at data from 152,180 adults — 25,811 Blacks and 126,369 Whites — in the National Health Interview Survey from 1997–2002, with follow-up through 2006 to account for deaths. Study participants reported on how much alcohol they drank and how often; on sociodemographic characteristics such as education, employment, and income; on other health behaviors such as smoking status; and on their health. Researchers also looked at lack of “social integration” into society, such as living in poverty or being unemployed.

Consistent with prior literature, the results showed that 13 percent of White men and 24 percent of Black men said they never drank. Among women, 23 percent of White women and 42 percent of Black women reported never drinking.

When the researchers looked at the relationship between drinking alcohol and mortality, they found that it varied by both race and gender. For men, the lowest risk of mortality was among White men who consumed 1-2 drinks 3-7 days per week and among Black men who did not drink at all. For women, the lowest risk of mortality was among white women consuming one drink per day 3-7 days per week, and among black women who consumed one drink on two or fewer days per week. Read more