While moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to a lower mortality risk among whites, it does not appear to have the same protective effect among blacks, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Its potential benefits also may vary by gender.
“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 lead author Chandra Jackson, Ph.D., research associate in the Chan school and Harvard Medical School.
Earlier studies have found a link between moderate drinking and lowered risk of type II diabetes, heart disease, and premature death, but those studies were conducted among mostly white populations, and some studies have suggested that blacks may not experience similar risk reduction.
For the new study, researchers observed data of 152,180 adults (25,811 blacks and 126,369 whites) from 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 factors such as education, employment and income; on other health issues such as smoking status; and on their health.
Researchers also took into account the absence of “social integration” into society, such as living in poverty or being unemployed.
Consistent with previous studies, the findings 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 observed the connection 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 one or two drinks three to seven days per week and among black men who didn’t drink at all.
For women, the lowest risk of mortality was among white women consuming one drink per day three to seven days per week, and among black women who had one drink on two or fewer days per week.
The researchers believe that more studies may be needed to observe other factors that might be involved in the link between alcohol and mortality risk, such as…
- lifestyle related to diet, physical activity, sleep, youthful experimentation vs. coping with hardships;
- socioeconomic status and other markers of social integration;
- differences in physical, chemical, and social exposures in both occupational and residential environments;
- genetic differences;
- and gender differences.
The findings are published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Source: Harvard School of Public Health