In the first draft of its global action plan on alcohol for 2022-2030, the WHO says “appropriate attention should be given” to preventing children, adolescents, pregnant women and women of childbearing age from consuming alcohol. The report suggested finding an outreach approach supported by evidence and “free from moralizing.”
The report says the “impact of harmful use of alcohol” includes negative impacts on mental health, workplace productivity, family functioning and more.
Christopher Snowdon, the head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, told The Telegraph that it was “a classic World health Organization idiocy.”
“The idea that it is unsafe for women of childbearing age to drink any alcohol is unscientific and absurd,” Snowdon said. “Moreover, it is none of the WHO’s business.”
According to the Daily Mail, some in the beverage industry say this plan is sexist and beyond the WHO’s authority.
Matt Lambert of the UK alcohol trade body the Portman Group spoke to the Daily Mail, saying the Portman Group is “extremely concerned” by the proposal.
“As well as being sexist and paternalistic, and potentially restricting the freedoms of most women, it goes well beyond their remit and is not rooted in science,” Lambert said.
Members of the scientific community have pushed back against the outrage against the report.
“It is a shame that this one phrase in the report has hoovered up attention,” Dr. Sadie Boniface, Head of Research, Institute of Alcohol Studies & Visiting Researcher, King’s College London, said in a statement. “This is the launch of an ambitious plan to address alcohol harm, and alcohol is the top risk factor globally for mortality among 15–49 year olds.”
According to WHO, the draft at the middle of the controversy is due to undergo several rounds of consultation before it is finalized and released, and the current draft “does not recommend abstinence of all women who are of an age at which they could become pregnant.”
“However it does seek to raise awareness of the serious consequences that can result from drinking alcohol while pregnant, even when the pregnancy is not yet known,” according to WHO.
There is clear scientific evidence of the risks of drinking alcohol while pregnant, both to the woman who is expecting and the unborn child. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are among the most dramatic consequences of drinking during pregnancy for a child. Besides, alcohol consumption, even at relatively moderate levels (of 10-20 grams of alcohol per day, equivalent to 1-2 standard drinks), is associated with increased risk of breast cancer in women and other health conditions.World Health Organization
The WHO says the goal of the action plan is to protect men, women and children from the harmful effects of alcohol, which they link to 3 million annual deaths.