by Francine Cohen

You’re well aware that over serving a bar patron is a no-no.  A BIG no-no that could result in something serious like a fine, or worse, like a revocation of your license or a business shut down or even possibly jail time, should you be found liable in a scenario where something tragic happens to said patron after they leave your establishment.  But what about when that same patron is felled by cardiomyopathy?  Is it your fault?  Especially when it happens years after they visit your bar?  Probably not.  But could you have helped them avoid such a dire health situation?  A recent review of the long term enhanced moderation initiative as presented last month by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States points to “yes.”

According to the DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR AMERICANS, 2010, Chapters Two and Three:  In the United States, approximately 50 percent of adults are current regular drinkers and 14 percent are current infrequent drinkers.  An estimated 9 percent of men consume an average of more than two drinks per day and 4 percent of women consume an average of more than one drink per day.  Of those who drink, about 29 percent of US adult drinkers report binge drinking within the past month, usually on multiple occasions.  This results in about 1.5 billion episodes of binge drinking in the United States each year.

The consumption of alcohol can have beneficial or harmful effects, depending on the amount consumed, age, and other characteristics of the person consuming the alcohol.  Alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects when consumed in moderation.  Strong evidence from observational studies has shown that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.  Moderate alcohol consumption also is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality among middle-aged and older adults and may help to keep cognitive function intact with age.  However, it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits because moderate alcohol intake is also associated with increased risk of breast cancer, violence, drowning, and injuries from falls and motor vehicle crashes.

At the forefront of trying to help your patrons avoid such an unpleasant end is Dr. Sam Zakhari, the new head of Office of Scientific Affairs at DISCUS.  Dr. Zakhari joins the spirit industry’s effort to make consumption a slightly healthier proposition after spending 26 years at National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an agency within NIH (National Institutes of Health).  There he served as Chief of the Biomedical Research Branch, as Director of the Division of Basic Research, and subsequently, as the Director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects.  

While pointing out that the guidelines show that an appropriate level of drinking in moderation is one drink per day for a woman and two drinks per day for a man, Dr. Zakhari makes it very clear that there’s some new math at play here because, as he points out 1x7 does NOT equal 7x1.  And therefore, this drink per day for a woman means seven drinks over the course of the week is a far cry, health wise, from seven drinks in one sitting.  He comments on the formula for safely enjoying alcoholic beverages, “The pattern of drinking is also important.  The impact of one drink every day for seven days is different than seven drinks in one day and none the rest of the week. “

This alcoholic drink is defined as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5%alcohol), 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof (40% alcohol) distilled spirits.  One drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol.

This all sounds very healthy, this one or two drink a day maximum depending on your gender.  But is it reality? Not mine.  And probably not yours.  Or most of your patrons.  And it’s not because all of us (and them) are intentionally binge drinkers, but because there are myriad factors in play; 1) We don’t live in a culture where alcohol enjoyment is part of our regular meal experience or something many of us learn to appreciate from a young age so therefore at legal age we have a whole new world opened up to us that needs to be explored.  Sometimes as rapidly as possible. 2) Plenty of people don’t have the leisure to be out every night enjoying just one drink and they have to save up their alcohol consumption for the little free time they do have, often on the weekend.  And, unfortunately, they feel as if they are making up for lost time (or a rough week). 3) In this go big or go home world portion sizes at restaurants have grown, and so too have some of our cocktails thanks to enormous glassware designs that would just look chintzy if they weren’t filled to the brim. 

So, what’s the healthy solution here?  How do we as an industry, and as a drinking nation, moderate our intake so that it falls within the healthy zone, yet doesn’t stand in the way of the enjoyment of these delicious beverages?  Do we need to buy different glassware?  Start cutting people off?  Or is education combined with good sense the best tool for keeping your customers alive and coming back for a long, long time?

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