Press release from University of Cambridge

Labelling alcoholic drinks as lower in strength could encourage people to drink more, study suggests

Labelling alcohol drinks lower in strength could increase alcohol consumption
People drink more if we label alcoholic drinks as lower in strength - science news

Alcohol addiction is one of the most common causes of premature death and loss of productive years both for the person and the society. This has resulted in the increased focus of governments all over the world to develop policies to decrease alcohol consumption. As a part of this strategy, policymakers in the UK, currently allow the industry to label a wide range of alcohol products as being lower in alcohol. The proposal is to extend this policy to include products lower than the present average in the market (12.9% ABV for wine and 4.2% ABV for beer). However, what was not studied was the notion that maybe instead of encouraging people to pick up lower strength alcohol products to decrease their consumption in place of high alcohol containing drinks, this could maybe backfire and encourage people to drink more quantity of lower strength alcohol products.

To examine this question further, researchers at Cambridge University from the department of Behaviour and Health Research Unit in association with the Centre for Addictive Behaviours Research at London South Bank University studied the behaviour of 264 weekly wine and beer drinkers in a bar setting. The alcohol drinks were different only in the label displayed. The people were divided into three groups. In one group the alcoholic drinks were labelled as 'Super Low', '4%ABV' and '1%ABV'. The second group the labels mentioned 'Low' and '8%ABV' for wine or '3%ABV' for beer. The final group had alcoholic drinks labelled as average strength in the market wine ('12.9%ABV') or beer ('4.2%ABV').

Results indicated that the lower the label on the drink for the strength of the alcohol higher was the consumption volume. So, while 'Super Low' drink consumption was 214 ml on average, the consumption of regularly labelled drinks was lower i.e about 177 ml only. This shows that labelling alcohol drinks as lower in strength may have a paradoxical effect such that they end up drinking more.

Story based on materials provided by University of Cambridge
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Scientific publication: Health Psychology

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