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Greater availability of non-alcoholic drinks may reduce alcohol consumption

People are more likely to opt for non-alcoholic drinks if there are more of them available than alcoholic drinks, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

A team of researchers at the NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre, and the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge, UK found that when presented with eight drink options, participants were 48% more likely to choose a non-alcoholic drink when the proportion of non-alcoholic drink options increased from four (50%) to six (75%). When the proportion of non-alcoholic drink options decreased from four to two (25%), participants were 46% less likely to choose a non-alcoholic drink.

Dr Anna Blackwell, the corresponding author said: “Alcohol consumption is among the top five risk factors for disease globally. Previous research has shown that increasing the availability of healthier food options can increase their selection and consumption relative to less healthy food. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that increasing the availability of non-alcoholic drinks, relative to alcoholic drinks in an online scenario, can increase their selection.”

Participants in the study completed an online task in which they were presented with a selection of alcoholic beer, non-alcoholic beer and soft-drinks. The drink selections included four alcoholic and four non-alcoholic drinks, six alcoholic and two non-alcoholic drinks or two alcoholic and six non-alcoholic drinks. 808 UK residents with an average age of 38 years who regularly consumed alcohol participated in the study. 

When presented with mostly non-alcoholic drinks, 49% of participants selected a non-alcoholic drink, compared to 26% of participants who selected a non-alcoholic drink when presented with mostly alcoholic drinks. These results were consistent regardless of the time participants had to make their decision, indicating that the findings were not dependent on the amount of time and attention participants were able to devote to their drink choice. The findings suggest that interventions to encourage healthier food and drink choices may be most effective when changing the relative availability of healthier and less-healthy options.

Anna Blackwell said: “Many licensed venues already offer several non-alcoholic options but these are often stored out of direct sight, for example in low-level fridges behind the bar. Our results indicate that making these non-alcoholic products more visible to customers may influence them to make healthier choices. The market for alcohol-free beer, wine and spirit alternatives is small but growing and improving the selection and promotion of non-alcoholic drinks in this way could provide an opportunity for licensed venues to reduce alcohol consumption without losing revenue.”

The authors caution that as the study measured hypothetical drink selection online, results may differ in real-world settings. Further studies are needed to determine how the relative availability of non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks impacts the purchasing and consumption of alcohol in real life.

-ENDS-

Media Contact 

Deborah Kendall
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BMC
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Notes to editor:

1.    Research article:

“The impact on selection of non-alcoholic vs alcoholic drink availability: an online experiment”
BMC Public Health 2020
DOI: 10.1186/s12889-020-08633-5

The article is available at the journal website.

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BMC's open access policy.

2.    BMC Public Health is an open access, peer-reviewed journal that considers articles on the epidemiology of disease and the understanding of all aspects of public health. The journal has a special focus on the social determinants of health, the environmental, behavioral, and occupational correlates of health and disease, and the impact of health policies, practices and interventions on the community.

3.    A pioneer of open access publishing, BMC has an evolving portfolio of high quality peer-reviewed journals including broad interest titles such as BMC Biology and BMC Medicine, specialist journals such as Malaria Journal and Microbiome, and the BMC series. At BMC, research is always in progress. We are committed to continual innovation to better support the needs of our communities, ensuring the integrity of the research we publish, and championing the benefits of open research. BMC is part of Springer Nature, giving us greater opportunities to help authors connect and advance discoveries across the world.

4.    Researchers involved in this study are funded by the National Institute for Health Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre and the Wellcome Trust.