New WHO advice says women 'of child-bearing age' shouldn't drink alcohol, and people are not happy

What do you reckon?

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What do you reckon?

In news today, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been called out for new guidelines which state women of 'child-bearing age' shouldn't consume alcohol.

Their latest 37-page alcohol action plan - which is, at this stage, a draft - states that any women who are pregnant, but also 'of childbearing age', should avoid drinking.

Many women responded to the guidelines saying it was Handmaid's Tale-esque, with one Twitter user, doctor Emma Milne (@Emma_Milne4), sharing:

"I think all of us who work in this area knew this was coming, but wow! Off to get my red cape and white bonnet, as apparently I'm only here to reproduce a healthy foetus #HandmaidsTale."

Dr Elizabeth Chloe Romanis (@ECRomanis) agrees, adding: "The WHO action plan on alcohol encourages people with the capacity to become pregnant to behave like they ARE pregnant - expecting them to conform to socially-enforced restrictions on lifestyle that lack an evidence base…"

So what does the report really say?

In the document, the WHO point out that prenatal alcohol exposure can be 'one of the most dramatic manifestations of harm to persons other than drinkers,' but further share:

It is necessary to raise awareness among decision-makers and the general public about the risks and harms associated with alcohol consumption. Appropriate attention should be given to prevention of the initiation of drinking among children and adolescents, prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age, and protection of people from pressures to drink, especially in societies with high levels of alcohol consumption where heavy drinkers are encouraged to drink even more.

To team Marie Claire UK, it looks like like the real aim of the document is to encourage governments globally to pay - as the WHO put it - 'appropriate attention' to the ongoing issue of alcohol misuse.

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Some stats for you. According to The Lancet journal, 2.8 million people die globally from alcohol-associated illnesses each year - 2.2% of women and 6.8% of men. Sadly, these figures are only rising, with Nuffield Health reporting that 20% more people died from misuse in the UK in 2020 than the year previous, 2019.

However - and this is where the issue arises - the report appears to advise women to be more wary of alcohol than men, despite the stats painting a different picture, and that's why people are riled. As Marian Knight, professor of maternal and child population health at Oxford University put it for The Times, it highlights a 'structural and cultural bias' that needs to be 'recognised and tackled.'

As per The Independent, Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of abortion rights charity BPAS, agrees and adds that the new advice is a 'risk' to 'hard-won women’s rights by attempting to control their bodies and choices in this way.'

She also expressed that the guidelines err on the side of treating women like 'vessels'. "By treating all women – for forty years of their lives – as little more than vessels, the WHO reduces women to little more than their reproductive capabilities," she shared.

Many have taken to Twitter to urge people to read the full proposal before jumping to any conclusions, with IAS Head of Research, Dr Sadie Boniface saying: “Media coverage has centred on one phrase in the 33-page draft action plan. This phrase was used in an introduction to one of the sections and is not one of the proposals"

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What do you reckon - a necessary precaution or an attempt that missed the mark?

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.