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Do education and socioeconomic status explain health benefits of wine?

 

Research has found that moderate wine consumption confers several major health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and all-cause mortality. This study questions whether these benefits are attributable to biological mechanisms or to other factors such as individuals’ social, cognitive and personality characteristics.

Bottom line

Wine-drinking individuals have a higher IQ and socioeconomic status. Although not investigated in this paper, such individuals may also have a healthier lifestyle, which together with biological mechanisms, would contribute to the health benefits of wine.


Reference

EL Mortensen et al. Better psychological functioning and higher social status may largely explain the apparent health benefits of wine. Archives of Internal Medicine 2001 161: 1844-1848.

Study

Participants were 693 Danes (363 men and 330 women), aged 29 to 34 years, from the Copenhagen Perinatal Cohort (consisting of individuals born at the Copenhagen University Hospital from 1959 to 1961).

Intelligence, personality and presence of clinical symptoms were assessed with standardised tests and questionnaires. Information was also collected on participants’ and parental socioeconomic status and educational level.

A questionnaire assessed alcohol intake during the previous typical week, resulting in the following four categories: no beer/no wine; beer only; wine only; and beer and wine. (Consumption of spirits was rare).

Results

The average number of drinks during the previous week for men were: 4 wine; 25 beer; and 18 beer and wine. For women the average number of drinks were: 6 wine; 11 beer; and 10 beer and wine.

Comment

Although this was an interesting paper, participant numbers were small and the design was cross-sectional, i.e. it looked at participants at a single point in time, so only associations can be determined, rather than causal relationships. This is not an issue with IQ, educational level or socioeconomic status, where wine-drinking was found to be associated with higher scores on these variables. However, it is tricky to draw conclusions from the measures of personality and clinical symptoms when cause and effect cannot be inferred.

It is a shame that this paper didn’t measure other health behaviours. It is possible that wine-drinking individuals who have a higher IQ and socioeconomic status also have a healthier lifestyle, which would contribute to their good health. However, there are several biological mechanisms that could also explain the health benefits of wine, which include reduced Lp(a) lipoprotein levels; increased levels of HDL cholesterol; and reduced platelet aggregation and fibrinogen levels. It is likely that the health benefits observed in those drinking a moderate amount of wine are due to both biological mechanisms and to their healthier lifestyles.