World Heart Federation charity is accused of cherry-picking facts for its danger of drinking report

  • The World Heart Federation (WHF) last week published a hard-hitting pamphlet
  • It covered the dangers of drinking which warned alcohol increases heart risks
  • Cited a 2018 study, published in The Lancet, quoting figures on how much higher researchers found the risks of various cardiovascular conditions in drinkers 
  • But Cambridge University statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said this was not an accurate portrayal of the study 

Scientists have accused a global health charity of cherry-picking facts to bolster its argument that drinking even small amounts of alcohol is bad for the heart.

The World Heart Federation (WHF) last week published a hard-hitting pamphlet on the dangers of drinking in which it warned alcohol use increased the risk of ‘all the major categories of cardiovascular disease’.

It cited a 2018 study, published in The Lancet, quoting figures on how much higher researchers had found the risks of various cardiovascular conditions to be among drinkers compared to what WHF called ‘non-drinkers’. 

Scientists have accused a global health charity of cherry-picking facts to bolster its argument that drinking even small amounts of alcohol is bad for the heart

But Cambridge University statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said this was not an accurate portrayal of the study. 

‘This WHF report makes extensive use of The Lancet study…but seriously misrepresents, and selectively reports, their findings,’ he said.

‘The WHF report claims that “in moderate drinkers, the risk of stroke is 1.14 times greater… than for non-drinkers”.

‘But [the 2018 study] did not make any comparison with non-drinkers.’

In fact, their study compared mortality rates and cardiovascular disease in 600,000 people who drank differing amounts of alcohol. Non-drinkers were excluded.

The WHF criticised studies that found light to moderate drinking could benefit the heart, saying these tended to be ‘observational’ rather than gold-standard randomised controlled trials. 

But Dr Richard Harding, who helped review sensible drinking messages for the UK Government in the mid-1990s, said: ‘This campaigning document misrepresents the science and is not evidence-based.

Cambridge University statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said the WHF’s representation of The Lancet study was not an accurate portrayal of the work

‘People shouldn’t drink alcohol for its potential health benefits, but those who choose to drink alcohol have a right not to be misinformed about the health consequences.’

Beatriz Champagne, of the WHF, said it had updated the document ‘to more clearly articulate our conclusions’, adding: ‘Our position is that studies showing a significant cardio-protective effect of alcohol consumption have by-and-large been observational, inconsistent, funded by the alcohol industry, and/or not subject to randomised control.

‘Any potential cardio-protective effect is negated by the well-documented risks and harms… no amount of consumption can be considered good for heart health.’ 

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