Pubs should serve more non-alcoholic beers on tap to ‘nudge’ Brits into drinking less booze, scientists say

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Making alcohol-free beer more widely available on draught nudges people towards healthier choices, a study suggests.

Customers bought less standard beer but substituted it for alcohol-free varieties, with no reduction in bars’ overall revenue.

Alcohol can lead to weight gain, addiction and has been linked to seven types of cancer, including mouth, upper throat, larynx, oesophagus, breast and bowel cancer.

Offering alcohol-free options is often seen as a good alternative for people who want to be healthier.

For the study, researchers from the University of Bristol, working with Bristol City Council, recruited 14 pubs and bars in the city.

Alcohol can lead to weight gain, addiction and has been linked to seven types of cancer, including mouth, upper throat, larynx, oesophagus, breast and bowel cancer

None of the venues had previously offered alcohol-free beer on draught – or ‘tap’.

The pubs and bars completed two intervention periods and two ‘control’ periods in a randomised order over eight weeks.

The intervention involved replacing one draught alcoholic beer with an alcohol-free beer. The control period of the study was business as usual.

Analysis revealed that when an alcohol-free option was available, pubs and bars sold, on average, 29 fewer litres of alcoholic beer per week, equivalent to 51 fewer pints and a 5 per cent reduction in sales.

However, this was replaced by an equivalent increase in sales of alcohol-free beer, suggesting customers were choosing the healthier option.

Furthermore, there was no impact on the money taken, suggesting the change did not leave pubs and bars worse off.

The team, writing in the journal Addiction, concluded: ‘Introducing a draught alcohol-free beer in bars and pubs in England reduced the volume of draught alcoholic beer sold by 4 per cent to 5 per cent, with no evidence of the intervention impacting net revenue.’

Dr Angela Attwood, associate professor in the university’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, said: ‘Although alcohol-free options have been available for a while in pubs and bars, they have not had the same visual prominence as alcoholic drinks and are rarely served on draught.

‘Our study showed that providing front-of-bar draught non-alcoholic options could lead to some customers switching from alcoholic drinks.

‘This does not restrict consumer choice; in fact, it increases the options available to the customer, and at the same time could reduce population levels of alcohol consumption and improve public health.’

Ivo Vlaev, professor of behavioural science at Warwick Business School, said the ‘study underscores the power of nudges in shaping healthier societal choices’.

He added: ‘By simply making alcohol-free beer more visible and accessible – essentially altering the choice architecture in bars and pubs – the research leverages basic human biases towards easier, more prominent options.’

A spokesperson for the World Cancer Research Fund, said it was ‘encouraging to see that making alcohol-free beer more visible to consumers led them to make a healthier choice by choosing the alcohol-free option’.

However, he added: ‘Just like with alcoholic drinks, the sugar and calories in alcohol-free options can vary.

‘That’s why it’s best for your health if you opt for smaller sizes – so, rather than a pint, choose a bottle or have a half-pint.’

Matt Lambert, chief executive of The Portman Group, the industry-funded regulator for alcohol labelling, said: ‘We welcome the findings of this study which highlight the importance of venues voluntarily increasing the availability of low and no alcohol alternatives and normalising these products.

‘This also reinforces our own research which shows these products are a vital tool in helping people moderate their drinking and reducing wider alcohol harms such as binge drinking and drink driving.’

Latest data, gathered by the World Health Organization and compiled by Oxford University-backed platform Our World in Data, shows the UK's wine consumption has soared to 3.3 litres of pure alcohol annually (2019), up on the 0.3 litres recorded almost 60 years earlier in 1961. It now accounts for over a third (33.7 per cent) of all alcohol consumed across the country and sits almost level with beer (36 per cent) which has plummeted from the 5.8 litres logged in 1961 to 3.5 litres today

Latest data, gathered by the World Health Organization and compiled by Oxford University-backed platform Our World in Data, shows the UK’s wine consumption has soared to 3.3 litres of pure alcohol annually (2019), up on the 0.3 litres recorded almost 60 years earlier in 1961. It now accounts for over a third (33.7 per cent) of all alcohol consumed across the country and sits almost level with beer (36 per cent) which has plummeted from the 5.8 litres logged in 1961 to 3.5 litres today

The NHS recommends people drink no more than 14 'units' of alcohol ¿ around six glasses of wine, or pints of beer ¿ per week. This itself has been watered down over the past few decades in light of studies illustrating the health dangers of alcohol

The NHS recommends people drink no more than 14 ‘units’ of alcohol — around six glasses of wine, or pints of beer — per week. This itself has been watered down over the past few decades in light of studies illustrating the health dangers of alcohol 

It comes as researchers at the University of York said there is not yet enough data on consumer behaviour around no- and low-alcohol drinks to state they are a healthy alternative to alcohol.

Professor Victoria Wells, from the university’s School of Business and Society, said: ‘Although the no- and low-alcohol industry is booming in terms of sales, we know very little about how, when, and in what ways it is chosen by and used by consumers.

‘If we want to really push (it) as a product that could help reduce the number of serious diseases, such as alcoholism and obesity, and more generally improve healthy drinking habits, then we need the data that proves this, and a more formal strategy on how these drinks are marketed to consumers to make sure they are enjoyed in the right ways.’

DO YOU DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL? THE 10 QUESTIONS THAT REVEAL YOUR RISK

One screening tool used widely by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tests). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the 10-question test is considered to be the gold standard in helping to determine if someone has alcohol abuse problems.

The test has been reproduced here with permission from the WHO.

To complete it, answer each question and note down the corresponding score.

YOUR SCORE:

0-7: You are within the sensible drinking range and have a low risk of alcohol-related problems.

Over 8: Indicate harmful or hazardous drinking.

8-15: Medium level of risk. Drinking at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting down (see below for tips).

16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own may be difficult at this level, as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counsellor.

20 and over: Possible dependence. Your drinking is already causing you problems, and you could very well be dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reduce your drinking. You should seek professional help to ascertain the level of your dependence and the safest way to withdraw from alcohol.

Severe dependence may need medically assisted withdrawal, or detox, in a hospital or a specialist clinic. This is due to the likelihood of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours needing specialist treatment.

AlcoholCancer

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