British Hypocrisy On Beer & Health

I take no pleasure, though a certain perverse comfort, in the fact that America is not alone in its hypocrisy when it comes to alcohol policy and its government heath organizations. Today in the BBC News is another example of this phenomenon. (Thanks to Pete Brown for pointing this one out.)

In a title no doubt intended to inspire fear and paranoia, Parents Giving Children Alcohol Fuels Binge Drinking, Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s chief medical officer, warned parents that “letting children taste alcohol to ready them for adulthood was ‘misguided'” and claimed “[e]vidence showed that this could lead to binge drinking in later life.” Curiously, he offered no support whatsoever for this so-called evidence apart from saying it. You’d think the reporter might have asked him for that evidence, but no. Way to probe for the story, Marty.

Donaldson also claimed, again without any support, that “[t]he science is clear – drinking, particularly at a young age, a lack of parental supervision, exposing children to drink-fueled events and failing to engage with them as they grow up are the root causes from which our country’s serious alcohol problem has developed.” The problem with that statement is that what he’s complaining about is that some parents give their children alcohol in a controlled environment, specifically NOT with a “lack of parental supervision,” etc. that he then claims is the problem. That makes it a problem that’s effectively the opposite of the one he starts out fomenting about and is indicated in the article’s headline. I should also mention that unlike most U.S. states, UK parents can legally “give their children alcohol at home from the age of five onwards.”

But, they continue, “[r]ates of teenage drunkenness are higher amongst both the children of parents who drink to excess and the children of parents who abstain completely.” So read that again. Kids drink more later in life if their parents either drink too much or not at all. That suggests that children of moderate drinkers do not, and the only way those children would know their parents are moderate drinkers if if they actually saw them drinking, something neo-prohibitionists are decidedly against.

Then again, as if forgetting that he began with the premise that parents giving their kids alcohol was the problem, he acknowledges. “Whilst parents have a greater influence on their children’s drinking patterns early on, as they grow older their friends have a greater influence. It is therefore crucial for parents to talk to their children about alcohol and its effects.” Talk, apparently, but not model responsible behavior or educate their children about alcohol.

But the upshot at the end is another opinion altogether, and one that contradicts everything that’s come before it.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “We know that adults who drink sensibly tend to pass these habits on and that some families choose to introduce alcohol to their children younger than 15 in a supportive environment.”

Well, if moderate drinking parents pass their responsible habits to their children — which I also believe they do — and some accomplish that by introducing alcohol to their kids successfully, then how exactly is this the problem that Dr. Donaldson seems to think it is? I tend to put my faith in the doctor who specializes in alcohol and health — Gilmore — rather than the administrator at the top, but perhaps that’s just me. I may simply be responding to the most reasonable position, and the one I happen to agree with.

So essentially, this article starts out with a bold headline and scary quotes from one of the country’s top docs, offered with no support whatsoever, and yet it turns out if you read all the way through it, that what they started out trying to scare people about isn’t even really true, settled or consistent. Of course, I learned in my college journalism classes that many readers tend to read the headline and maybe a paragraph or two, before their interest wanes and they move on. That’s why I was taught to put all the pertinent information in the early paragraphs and not leave it for a trick ending that contradicts the premise. (To be fair, I often ignore that advice, too, but not when I’m writing for a newspaper.) To me, that suggests an agenda on the part of either the author or the publisher. Surely an editor would have noticed the article wasn’t even internally consistent. But whatever the reason it was written this way, it certainly did beer or the truth no favors.


  1. says

    I let my youngen’s (10, 4 and 2) sip and taste my beer anytime they ask. If I have a truly remarkable beer, i’ll aks my 10 year old if she’d like a sip. She can now point out some flavors. Rarely does she ask to try beer though.
    Stupid government.


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