'Mum drinking' is on the rise, but non-parents still drink more

Photo:istock
Photo:istock 

While concerns around "mummy wine time" have increased over the past few years, fuelled by memes and the so-called "pinking" of the alcohol market, a new study suggests the extra scrutiny, on this particular group, may be unfounded. According to the research, published in the journal PLOS Medicinemen and women with children reported lower levels of binge drinking than those without kids.

But don't pour yourself a celebratory glass just yet - especially if you're a dad.

The research analysed US data from 239,944 adults aged 18-55 from the National Health Interview Survey [NHIS) for the years 2006 to 2018, with a focus on participants' parenting status, and their alcohol intake. "Media reporting has focused on drinking among women who parent (so-called mummy drinking) as particularly concerning," the authors note. But is this actually the case?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The short answer is no. In fact, the findings highlighted problematic alcohol use among men and women of all ages.

"Concerns about increases in alcohol use among women with children should be qualified; all adult women are increasing drinking, and women without children have higher rates of drinking than women with children," the authors write.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The researchers found that trends in binge and heavy drinking over time were not differentiated by parenting status for women. In fact, declines and increases were mainly attributable to sex and age. Binge drinking increased for all women, regardless of parenting status, with the largest increase in women, without kids, aged 30 - 44.

"We observed that men and women who parent, drink less than those who do not, and men who parent drink more than women who parent," said senior author Dr Katherine Keyes of the results.

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That's right - the study highlighted that dads drink more than mums, a fact often left out of public debate.

"Mums are often subject to increased scrutiny regarding their own health, and how their decisions impact the health of their children," said lead author Sarah McKetta, MD/PhD candidate at Columbia Mailman School's Department of Epidemiology. "We found that public concern over 'mummy drinking' is not supported by the data."

Additionally, they note: "Fathers' involvement with alcohol use is less frequently subject to the same such criticisms, despite patterns of higher levels of problematic alcohol use by men."

Adds Dr Keyes: "Targeting subgroups or perpetuating myths that are based on normative beliefs about women's parenting roles are a distraction from the growing public health concerns of problematic alcohol use among men and women of all ages."

The findings mirror those published last year in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review from the South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute. Lead researcher, PhD candidate Jacqueline Bowden found that on average, parents are 25 per cent less likely to put their long-term health at risk due to alcohol use. "We found parents are less likely to drink more than the recommended limit of two standard drinks per day, and also less likely to "binge" drink, which is classified as more than four standard drinks on the one occasion," she said at the time.

The data, which was drawn from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, also showed that mums are most likely to follow recommended intake levels when their kids are less than two years old, between six and 11 years old or 15 years and over.

The pattern for fathers was different, however. Fathers were just as likely to exceed the guidelines for lifetime risk as men without kids - with one exception. Dads with children under two years old were less likely to exceed the guideline for short-term risk than non-fathers.

"While we found fewer parents exceeding the guidelines for drinking alcohol, we also found that parents were more likely to drink alcohol at home (84.6 per cent) than non-parents (79.6 per cent)," Ms Bowden said of their findings. But she acknowledged that there's a pretty simple explanation for that. "That's perfectly understandable given parents, particularly of young children, are less likely to go out."