Could smaller alcohol measures reduce drink-related deaths?
It wasn’t until the mid 20th century that wine consumption really took off[i]. This was driven by the greater affordability and availability (supermarkets) of wine and by heavy marketing activity. But what may also have contributed to this increase is the increase in the size of the glassware we are drinking from.
Research by the blm[ii] into the capacity of wine glasses since the 1700’s has shown a marked increase, which has risen steeply in the last three decades. Although it is not possible to directly make a causal link to the increase in size of wine glasses and the increase in consumption, we do know that people tend to view consumption in terms of units. One cup of coffee, one piece of cake, one glass of wine. People think in quantities rather than consider the size of that unit.
In many UK bars and restaurants it is no longer possible to buy a ‘small’ 125ml glass of wine with the 250ml glass size now becoming the norm. This means that what people view as a single glass of wine, actually now equates to nearly 3 units. It isn’t much of a stretch, therefore to see how people’s consumption can go up without them even realising!
Would reducing the size of glasses reduce our alcohol consumption?
Research published by the Addiction journal[iii], has highlighted that this could be the case. That reducing the standard serving size of alcoholic drinks in the UK could provide benefits to the health of our nation.
The studies, conducted by researchers from the Universities of Liverpool and Sheffield, looked at the possible benefits of replacing the standard pint glass for beer and 175ml wine glass by a glass holding two-thirds of a pint of beer and 125ml glass for wine.
The results are impressive, with researchers claiming that cutting the size of glass by 25 percent for beer, cider and wine could cut alcohol consumption by 40 percent. This would in turn lead to:
- 1,400 fewer alcohol related deaths per year
- 73,00 fewer hospital admissions per year
These findings come from the results of two studies. In the first study, participants drank from standard or reduced size glasses while watching a one-hour TV programme in a laboratory designed to look like a sitting room. In the second study, participants were invited to one of four quiz nights in a bar selling alcohol in only standard or reduced size glasses. Prices were comparable for the amount of alcohol served.
In both these studies, people could order as many drinks as they wanted, so those drinking from smaller glasses could order more.
The results showed that those drinking from smaller servings drank less alcohol in the session than those drinking form the standard glass sizes.
For those in the ‘home’ setting, it reduced consumption by 22.3 percent and for those in a pub setting by a staggering 39.6 percent.
This seems to back up the idea that we drink by the number of drinks rather than the volume.
The impact on health
The University of Cambridge has also carried a separate study that showed that regularly drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol is as damaging to your health as smoking.
- There is a rise in all causes of death in people who drink more than 12.5 units of alcohol a week (the equivalent of six standard glasses of wine or pints of beer)
- When people drink 10 glasses or more, this was linked to a shortening of life expectancy by up to two years and if you are drinking over 18 drinks per week this goes up to five years
Dr Inge Kersbergen, who led the study, said: “The typical serving size of beer in the UK of a pint is larger than many other countries and the size of wine servings in UK bars and restaurants has increased in recent decades, so there is room for serving sizes to be reduced without making them unrealistically small.
“Reducing the standard serving size of alcohol in bars and restaurants may be an effective way to reduce alcohol consumption at the population level and improve public health.”
Professor Matt Field, a University of Liverpool researcher involved in the study, said: “Reducing the standard serving size of alcoholic drinks could automatically prompt people to drink less, even if they are not motivated to cut down. But at the same time, the total amount that people consume would remain completely their own choice.”
What can you do to help yourself?
So the next time you reach for a glass at home for your beer, cider or wine, maybe make a conscious effort to use a smaller glass. And when out, resist the bar tender’s prompt of ‘would you like a large glass?’.
[i] ↵ Nicholls J. Drinking cultures and consumption in England: historical trends and policy implications. 2009.https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmhealth/151/151we21.htm#note66