Alcohol: How it all adds up – National Consumers League

Wine. Beer. Wine cooler. Cocktail. Mixed drink. Different kinds of drinks, different amounts of alcohol, right? Wrong!

It’s a mistake many people make. In truth, standard serving sizes of all alcohol beverages — beer, wine, and liquor — are equal in alcohol strength and effect on the body.

Says who?
The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, define a drink of alcohol as “12 oz. of regular beer, 5 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits.”

In a survey commissioned by the National Consumers League, respondents said they want more information about alcoholic beverages. Ninety-three percent said they want information on alcohol content, and 87 percent want information on the amount of alcohol per serving.

So, here it is. This fact sheet will help you understand how much alcohol you’re getting, no matter what drink you choose. Knowing the alcohol equivalency of standard serving sizes of different types of drinks is essential to consumers who want to drink responsibly. And experts agree. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Alcohol is alcohol. Beer has the same effect as straight scotch. One 12-oz. beer has as much alcohol as a 1.5-oz. shot of whiskey or a 5-oz. glass of wine.”

How could that be?
One ounce of beer contains less alcohol than one ounce of spirits, but the standard serving of beer is a 12-oz. can or bottle. Here’s how it adds up:

  • Beer contains between 4 and 7 percent alcohol by volume, with the average being 5 percent alcohol by volume. 12 oz. x 5 percent alcohol by volume = 0.6 oz. of alcohol/serving.
  • The same is true of wine. The standard serving of wine is 5 oz., which generally contains between 11 and 13 percent alcohol by volume. 5 oz. x 12 percent alcohol by volume = 0.6 oz. of alcohol/serving.
  • Liquor (distilled spirits) is most often consumed in mixed drinks with 1.5-oz. spirits. Sometimes spirits (vodka, gin, scotch, bourbon, etc.) are mixed with water, club soda, or juice or served “straight” or “on the rocks.” No matter how spirits are consumed, a standard serving (1.5 oz.) of 80 proof (40 percent alcohol by volume) of distilled spirits has the same amount of alcohol as standard servings of beer and wine. So 1.5 oz. x 40 percent alcohol by volume = 0.6 oz. of alcohol/serving.

This means that a typical or standard serving of beer, wine, or spirits each contain 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol.

Alcohol and medications don’t mix
Drinking beer, wine, or liquor while taking painkillers, allergy medicines, cough and cold remedies, and a number of other commonly used over-the-counter or prescription drugs can be extremely dangerous. Always READ THE LABEL to determine if the medication carries a specific warning about consuming alcohol. Ask your health provider or pharmacist about dangers involved in taking medication if you plan on drinking alcohol – and don’t forget to ask about dangers involved in mixing alcohol with dietary supplements or herbals.

Or make it easy on yourself—avoid alcohol altogether while taking any drug.

Underage drinking: alcohol is alcohol
An alarming number of parents (88 percent) mistakenly conclude that beer is safer than liquor, according to a survey by Widmeyer Research and Polling for the Center for Government Reform.

Parents should not allow teens to drink any alcohol, beer or otherwise. Teens’ brains are still developing, and alcohol can affect a teen’s ability to learn and remember, impairing academic performance. Teen alcohol has also been linked to future health problems, delinquency, suicide, and auto accidents.

Besides, it’s illegal to supply a minor with alcohol! Set a good example for your kids.

And a word about binge drinking.

We often hear from the media about young people, especially college students, drinking so much alcohol that they pass out, end up in the hospital, or worse, die from alcohol poisoning.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking happens when someone’s blood alcohol concentration reaches .08% or higher. In order to reach .08%, men typically have to drink 5 standard drinks and women have to drink 4 standard drinks. Combined with poor nutrition and lack of exercise, excessive alcohol use can eventually lead to brain and liver damage or various cancers. The Harvard School of Public Health reports that nearly one-quarter of college students engage in binge drinking.

And binge drinking is also linked to accidents such as motor-vehicle crashes, falls, and drowning.

Parents can help their college age students to recognize and resist peer pressure which often leads to drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and binge drinking. Emphasize that young people don’t need to drink to have fun.

Do the Math
To enjoy responsibly, remember the facts: standard sizes of different drinks all contain equal amounts of alcohol. Don’t kid yourself into thinking beer or wine is “safer” or less “potent” than the “hard stuff.” In your body, all alcohol is the same.

With this important fact in mind, the following are some basic do’s and don’ts that are an essential part of safe drinking:

  • Do drink responsibly and in moderation.
  • Do have a designated driver.
  • Don’t drink alcohol if you’re on medication — prescription and non-prescription.
  • Do be aware that a typical or standard serving of beer, wine, or spirits contains the same amount of alcohol.
  • Parents should not allow underage children to drink alcohol.
  • Don’t drink alcohol if you are pregnant or nursing.
  • Don’t serve to or buy alcohol for people under 21.

When it comes to drinking alcohol, the old adage is true: It doesn’t matter what you drink, it’s really how much that counts.

Live well with asthma: Peak flow meters – National Consumers League

Even when you feel like you are breathing well, a peak flow meter can alert you to changes in your lung function. You may see a drop in peak flow numbers even before you have asthma symptoms (like coughing or wheezing). This device can help you manage your asthma and may reduce the number and severity of asthma flare-ups.

Keeping a peak flow chart can be very helpful to you, and to your health care provider. You can use it to track your lung function and provide important information on how you are responding to treatment at home so your doctor or nurse can help you with the best treatment plan.

Use and Care of Your Peak Flow Meter

  • Understand how to properly use your peak flow meter.
  • Follow the cleaning instructions. This will help keep the readings accurate.
  • Follow your health care provider’s recommendation on how often you should use your peak flow meter and at what time of day.

How to Graph Your Score

Ask your health care provider to help you determine your personal best peak flow score.

Your personal best peak flow score may change over time. It changes for children as they grow. Discuss this with your care provider at least once a year.

When you know this personal best score, you can graph your peak flow scores into zones:

  • green (best)
  • yellow (caution)
  • red (medical alert)

Using these colors helps you visually track scores that are in your own personalized zones. One easy way to do this is to use highlighters to color in the green, yellow, and red zones on your chart.

Green Zone: This is a score that is 80 percent to 100 percent of the personal best score. This is your goal for optimum management of your asthma.

Yellow Zone: This is a score that is 50 percent to 80 percent of the personal best score. This is your caution zone. Review your daily treatment plan for proper treatment in this zone, which may include a call to your health care provider or increased medication use or dose. If your prescribed treatment is not working, or you find yourself often falling within this zone, you may need to revise your daily treatment plan with your health care provider.

Red Zone: This is a score that is below 50 percent of your personal best score. Consider this your “danger” zone. Contact your health care provider for instruction when you get a reading in this zone.

Work with your health care provider to find your personal best peak flow score and set the color zones. Be sure to get written instructions on what to do when you record readings in each of these zones.

Let’s say your personal best peak flow score, as determined by your health care provider, was 625. Here is how the color zones could look:

Green Zone: Between 80 and 100% of personal best score. Determine 80% of your score to get the “floor” for the green zone. (625 x .80 = 500; green zone ranges from 500 to 625)

Yellow Zone: Between 50 and 80% of personal best score. Determine 50% of your score to get the “floor” for the yellow zone. (625 x .50 = 312; yellow zone from 312 to 500)

Red Zone: Below 50% of Personal Best (chart red zone below 312)

No matter what your peak flow meter number is, get help if you experience asthma symptoms that you and your health care provider have identified in your plan as being serious (such as severe wheezing or chest tightness).

Women’s health: Understanding hormone risk – National Consumers League

Hormone health – whether related to health promotion, disease prevention, or optimal nutrition – is a critical issue for women and the health care providers who treat them. Issues such as hormone therapy, breast cancer prevention and treatment, and soy consumption are challenging health topics made more complicated by the ever-growing, and sometimes conflicting, information available to the public.  In this confusing environment, how do women and their health care providers access reliable information to make wise choices?

This question and others were explored at the National Consumers League’s Women’s Health Forum: Navigating Health Information, held on January 18, 2007 in Washington D.C., at the National Press Club. 

The forum provided attendees with background on these topics and explored how women and their health care providers must sift through vast amounts of often conflicting resources in order to find credible and reliable information. The American Nurses Association co-provided the forum and offered up to six hours of continuing education credit for nurses who attended. In addition to nurses, audience participants included other health care providers, consumer advocates, researchers, policy makers, and representatives from government and industry.

Tips for Identifying Reliable Resources

At the Women’s Health Forum, speakers and participants discussed the challenge of finding dependable information about the confusing and often controversial issues within women’s health. How’s a consumer to know whether what he or she is reading is trustworthy? The forum produced the following tips for judging the quality of health information:

1) When the resource includes information focusing on research for a specific medical treatment, consider the following:

  • What is the observed relative risk/benefit of the treatment, as well as the absolute risk/benefit? (See box below on the difference between absolute and relative risk) Are the findings statistically significant? Is this true for all populations or sub-groups evaluated?
  • Do the treatment studies have disease outcome results, or just surrogate markers?
  • If there is no evidence of harm or benefit available for the treatment, consider whether this is because the research findings are contradictory or not performed/available to the public; and
  • Is there a placebo effect – meaning that the patient’s symptoms are altered in some way (i.e., alleviated or exacerbated) by an otherwise inert treatment, due to the individual expecting or believing that it will work.

2) Always consider the source of information (does it appear in a peer-reviewed journal, or is it a sponsored white paper that has not undergone external scientific review?), the completeness of the research, and the financial ties of the source. Keep in mind that results from industry-sponsored studies are sometimes more favorable to that industry’s products than those conducted by independent third parties.

3) When reviewing health information, consider it in the context of your immediate concern (e.g., any symptoms you are trying to relieve or health conditions you want to treat now) AND your longer-term concerns (e.g., conditions or future health problems you are trying to avoid). Looking at the information in terms of both current and future health implications should help you make more informed and complete decisions.

Understanding risk

There are two main ways to talk about risk – relative risk and absolute risk.

Absolute risk refers to a person’s risk (or chance) of developing a disease over a certain time period.

Relative risk compares the risk of getting a disease in two different groups of people – such as a group taking medicine A compared to a group taking medicine B.

Although reports on new treatments often highlight the relative risk reduction of a treatment, the absolute risk gives a better sense of your individual risk. Both absolute and relative risk are important to consider, but relative risk can be misleading.

For Example:

Say 2 in 10,000 women risk developing cataracts by the time they are 70 years old. Research shows that a new treatment reduces the relative risk by 50%, meaning that a woman’s risk is reduced by half. In this example, the absolute risk of developing a cataract now falls from 2 in 10,000 women (.02%), to 1 in 10,000 women (.01%). A woman’s relative risk may be reduced by 50% with treatment, but a .02% absolute risk without treatment is still a pretty small risk.

This difference is particularly important for patients to consider when they look at the risks of particular treatments as well as benefits. If you have a very low absolute risk for a disease even before treatment, then the side effects associated with that treatment may not be worth the relative benefit you might get from taking it.