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U of I Researcher Part of Effort to Update National Alcohol Guidelines

January 31, 2024

MOSCOW, Idaho — A University of Idaho faculty member is serving on a committee of experts tasked with reviewing scientific literature to guide updates on the consumption of alcohol for the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Shelley McGuire, director of the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences, is among nine experts who were named to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) committee. She will be working with scientists from some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions, such as Harvard University, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University and University of North Carolina.

McGuire is a leading researcher of human milk science whose expertise will help the committee tackle questions about the effects of alcohol consumption during lactation on milk composition and quality, as well as post-partum weight loss and infant development.

“At the most basic level, we’re going to determine if there’s even enough science out there to make recommendations and we will summarize the literature,” McGuire said.

Last fall, McGuire became the first faculty member to be inducted into the vaunted National Academy of Medicine (NAM) while employed at an Idaho institution. NAM is a private, nonprofit organization that includes more than 2,400 members worldwide elected by their peers. It is among the three academies comprising NASEM.

As a new NAM member, McGuire is tasked with helping inform national health policy and offering guidance on human health research priorities. She will also help select future academy members and has been granted priority to serve on committees of experts commissioned by the academy to draft reports on pressing scientific questions.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which offer advice on what to eat and drink to build a healthy diet, are updated every five years, and new guidelines are due to be released in 2025. The current guidelines include the first dietary recommendations for children up to 2 years old, advising that mothers breastfeed newborn infants.

The guidelines advise against pregnant women drinking any alcohol, but current recommendations for breastfeeding mothers are vague: “Generally, moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages by a woman who is lactating is not known to be harmful to the infant, especially if the woman waits at least two hours to breastfeed. Women considering alcohol during lactation should talk to their health care providers.”

The committee hosted its first meeting earlier this month in Washington, D.C.

The committee will also summarize literature regarding alcohol’s effects on obesity, body composition, cancer risk, cardiovascular disease risk, neurocognitive health and general mortality. The committee’s actions will also have significant political ramifications.

“If the federal government comes out and says breastfeeding women should not drink then you have three whole phases of the lifespan during which people aren’t supposed to drink, and we have a pretty big alcohol industry in this country,” McGuire said.

After reviewing the literature, the committee may determine there’s insufficient data to offer guidance on some of the questions. In such circumstances, committee members sometimes take it upon themselves to collaborate and produce additional science.

“All of a sudden, you have spent dozens of hours and meals with high-level scientists, and you think, ‘Well, we could answer that question,’” McGuire said.

McGuire has a history of providing crucial information to guide decisions by breastfeeding mothers. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, she helped lead a research team that allayed fears among COVID-19-positive mothers about breastfeeding, finding their breastmilk supplies infants with crucial antibodies.

Media Contact:

John O’Connell
Assistant Director of Communications, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Shelley McGuire
Professor and Director, Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 11,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at


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