When messages get confusing, people switch off. This has been demonstrated in dietary advice, where it has been shown that the more complicated the diet; the less likely people are to follow it. It has now been shown that official government guidelines on drinking alcohol have little impact on the behavior of expectant mothers.
A study in the Medical Journal of Australia shows that 80% of Australian women consume alcohol while pregnant. The study looked at consumption before and after changes in guidelines in 2001. Prior to 2001, the government recommendation was to drink no alcohol during pregnancy. This was changed to a safe limit of 6 standard drinks per week or less than 2 per day. In 2009, the guidelines were changed back to total abstinence.
What has been shown is that the behavior of women during this time was unchanged. Some 60% of women consume a small amount of alcohol (consistent with the 2001 guidelines), 20% drink less than that and a little fewer than 20% don’t drink at all during pregnancy. Less than 1% were found to consume a level regarded as dangerous.
Much effort and expense goes into developing guidelines. Governments and health experts often wring their hands about people not following their advice
What is really interesting in these figures is that the vast majority (over 99%) of women can figure out what is reasonable themselves. The vast majority of women can work out what is a reasonable and safe amount of alcohol to drink. They are clearly dismissive of scare campaigns about the dangers of even one drink. The reason for this of course is that small amounts of alcohol have not actually been shown to do any damage to the fetus. In turn, the reason for this is that small amounts of alcohol are easily processed by the body ,with no adverse effects.
There are of course, renewed arguments over labeling of alcoholic beverages. Governments and in particular, public health officials, love to be seen as doing something and they particularly love to hector the general public who they generally regard as being stupid. This survey shows that women are actually much smarter than government guidelines and health officials.
Interestingly, at about the same time, another study emerged which suggested that women who drank one glass of wine a day might have children who were better behaved than those who either drank no alcohol or drank heavily. To be honest, I would be very suspicious of these findings. There is no reason why one glass of wine consumed during pregnancy should influence the behavior of a child later in life.
What was really interesting though is that the researchers, despite making this finding, advised women to continue to observe Government recommendations of total abstinence. If the finding is valid, then you think they would be advising one glass of wine per day. If this finding is not valid, then why has it been published at all?
It is easy to imaging the noise that would have been generated had the study shown that one glass of wine per day led to worse behavior in children. This would be hailed as vindication of Government guidelines.
Whilst many in health claim to be guided by science, it is fascinating to see how when the results of their science contradicts their pre-existing beliefs that results can be dismissed.
Rather than being guided by confusing and changing guidelines, clearly women are best guided by their own intuition.