Are the ‘please drink responsibly’ labels pointless? Heavy drinkers aren’t deterred by ‘nanny-state’ messages, experts say
- Researchers at Oxfords Brookes University found that warning labels have little effect
- They said warning messages ‘should be more personally relevant to consumers’
- Britons are urged to drink no more than 14 units a week regularly
Sticking “please drink responsibly” messages on alcohol may not help high-risk drinkers cut corners, research suggests.
Heavy drinkers see the labels as an ‘industry trick’ to give the impression that they care about consumer health.
Experts at Oxford’s Brookes University say it means the labels, introduced more than a decade ago, are “probably not going to be effective.”
Instead, messages should be more “personally relevant to consumers,” scientists conclude.
In the UK, Brits are urged to drink no more than 14 units a week on a regular basis – the equivalent of six pints of lager or 10 small glasses of wine.
Oxfords Brookes University researchers found that ‘responsible drinking’ labels, introduced in 2011 under a voluntary agreement with suppliers, have little effect on drinkers
The UK alcohol industry has committed to ensuring that 80 per cent of bottles and cans are labeled with the number of units in the drink, which are national guidelines and pregnancy warnings
Americans are advised to drink no more than 14 small cans of beer per week for men and seven small glasses of wine for women.
As part of a crackdown introduced in 2011, the UK alcohol industry has committed to ensuring that 80 percent of bottles and cans are labeled with responsibility warnings.
This includes stating how many units are in each drink, what the national guidelines are, and pregnancy warnings. It also includes the generic “please drink responsibly” message.
Experts described it as nanny statism.
The new study was published in the British Journal of Health Psychology.
Researchers surveyed 20 drinkers, ages 20 to 60, about their thoughts on the warnings and how they affect drinking. The majority were classified as high-risk drinkers, meaning they are in the top 5 percent of drinkers nationally.
The participants were shown three types of labels, one of which promotes ‘responsible drinking’, in line with most common packaging.
Another set contained positive health messages, for example ‘drinking less reduces the risk’.
And a third had negative health messages, suggesting that drinking more increases the dangers.
They were all asked for their opinion on all three and how they might influence their drinking.
The results showed that high-risk drinkers did not respond positively to any of the warnings.
The team said this is because they consider themselves responsible in their consumption.
This meant they didn’t see the information on labels as relevant to themselves, the researchers said.
They were not in favor of including health information on labels, but did say that information about cancer risk from drinking had a stronger impact.
Lead author Dr Emma Davies, a psychologist at Oxford Brookes University, said: ‘We know that excessive alcohol consumption can cause health problems
“The government’s voluntary agreement with the alcohol industry in 2011 on product labeling was an attempt to encourage consumers to think about the risks of drinking.
“Our research has shown that generic messages about responsible drinking are unlikely to be effective and that messages should be more personally relevant to consumers.
“Many people who are considered high-risk drinkers under existing measures consider themselves responsible and moderate in their alcohol consumption, and product labeling is unlikely to be effective unless this view can be challenged.”
DO YOU DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL? THE 10 QUESTIONS THAT REVEAL YOUR RISK
A screening tool commonly used by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tests). The 10-question test was developed in collaboration with the World Health Organization and is considered the gold standard for determining whether someone has problems with alcohol abuse.
The test is reproduced here with permission from the WHO.
To complete it, answer each question and write down the corresponding score.
0-7: You are within the responsible drinking range and have a low risk of alcohol-related problems.
More than 8: Mention harmful or dangerous drinking.
8-15: Average risk level. If you drink at your current level, you risk developing problems with your health and your life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider decreasing (see below for tips).
16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own can be difficult at this level, as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counselor.
20 years and older: Possible dependence. Your alcohol use is already causing problems and you could very well be dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reducing your drinking. You should seek professional help to determine your dependence and the safest way to abstain from alcohol.
Severe dependence may require medically assisted withdrawal or detox in a hospital or specialist clinic. This is due to the potential for severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours requiring specialist treatment.