Removing large glasses of wine reduces total amount people drink

People could reduce how much wine they buy in pubs if the biggest serving is removed from sale, a new study has found.

Typically a large measure of wine at a bar is 250ml. And researchers at the University of Cambridge have now said people could be “nudged” into drinking less if this was smaller.

This they say could have a positive impact on health. The study also found no evidence the wine would be replaced by drinking more beer or cider.

The research, published in Plos Medicine, found that removing large wine glasses led to a drop in the amount of wine sold at pubs and bars of just under 8% on average. Taking into consideration factors such as day of the week and total revenue, taking away big glasses led to an average decrease of 420ml of wine sold per day per venue.

Researchers found no evidence the move affected total profits, suggesting pubs and bars did not need to worry about losing money. This was perhaps due to the higher profit margins of smaller serving sizes of wine, the experts suggested.

First author Dr Eleni Mantzari, from the University of Cambridge, said: “It looks like when the largest serving size of wine by the glass was unavailable, people shifted towards the smaller options, but didn’t then drink the equivalent amount of wine.

“People tend to consume a specific number of units – in this case glasses – regardless of portion size. So, someone might decide at the outset they’ll limit themselves to a couple of glasses of wine, and with less alcohol in each glass they drink less overall.”

Drinking too much is the fifth largest contributor to premature death and disease worldwide, figures show. According to the World Health Organisation, the harmful use of alcohol resulted in approximately three million deaths worldwide in 2016.

Professor Dame Theresa Marteau, the study’s senior author and an honorary fellow at Christ’s College, Cambridge, said: “It’s worth remembering that no level of alcohol consumption is considered safe for health, with even light consumption contributing to the development of many cancers.

“Although the reduction in the amount of wine sold at each premises was relatively small, even a small reduction could make a meaningful contribution to population health.”

A number of different factors, such as advertising, labelling and availability, can influence how much people drink and previous research from the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at Cambridge has shown that even glass size can influence how much alcohol is consumed.

In the new research, the Cambridge team carried out a study in 21 licensed premises (mainly pubs) in England – London, Cambridgeshire, Southampton, Gloucester, Brighton and Hove – to see whether removing their largest serving of wine by the glass for four weeks would have an impact on how much wine is consumed.

Some 20 pubs completed the experiment which took place between September 2021 and May 2022. In the study, managers at four of the 21 premises reported receiving complaints from customers.

However, the researchers were unable to assess the sales of other alcoholic drinks apart from wine, beer and cider, estimated to comprise approximately 30% of alcoholic drinks sold in participating premises.

According to the experts, even though removing the largest serving glass would potentially be acceptable to pub or bar managers, given there was no evidence that it can result in a loss in revenue, the alcohol industry may resist the move.

Public support for such a policy would also depend on its effectiveness and how clearly this was communicated, they said. Data suggests wine is the most commonly drunk alcoholic drink in the UK and Europe.

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, which regulates alcohol marketing in the UK, said: “It is worth remembering that the majority of UK adults already either do not drink or drink within the chief medical officer’s recommended low risk guidelines.

“Whilst we are vocally supportive of measures to increase moderation among drinkers, there should be more efforts to increase consumer choice in this area rather than to unnecessarily restrict it – for instance the wider availability of 125ml glasses of wine and of lower strength alternatives.”

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