Study Says Lowering Alcohol Levels in Beer Could Reduce Harmful Health Effects

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A paper recently appeared in one of The Lancet journals that suggests the harmful effects of alcohol could be reduced if the potency of beer was scaled down. Specifically, the proposal is that ethanol use would be lowered enough to reduce the alcohol intake without affecting the taste or the amount of beverage consumed.

The harmful effects of alcohol are well known and range from cancer to liver cirrhosis to various injuries that arise when people are drunk. According to the World Health Organization, almost a quarter of deaths by people between ages 20 and 39 are alcohol-related.

With this problem in mind, the researchers looked at three potential mechanisms for reducing alcohol strength: getting drinkers to switch to drinks with lower alcohol content (without drinking more to compensate), getting current drinkers to switch to non-alcoholic beverages part of the time, and, oddly by getting current abstainers to initiate alcohol use. The first mechanism was deemed the most viable.

The researchers looked at possible implementation methods, like when Australia levied a tax on drinks with more than three percent alcohol content, and decided that moves which encouraged lower beer alcohol content would be the most successful. The reasons for this belief were that past research has shown consumers have trouble distinguishing between beers of different strength, and that the alcohol industry has been more likely to support reducing alcohol content than accepting higher taxes, market restrictions, or other curtailing measures.

Strictly speaking, the study did not focus on whether this method would be ale to reduce alcohol’s harmful effects and instead concerned itself with feasibility and implementation. The researchers acknowledge that independent assessment will be needed to determine the impact such measures have on harmful effects.

If such beer-alcohol reduction methods are implemented, it will also be important to keep an eye out for unintended consequences. If people are aware that their beer has less alcohol than normal, that may give them psychological permission to drink more than they usually would. This is a known effect that can happen, for instance, with products advertised as low calorie.

Preidt, R., “Would Weaker Beer Help Reduce Alcohol’s Harms?” HealthDay web site, last updated August 12, 2016;, last accessed August 12, 2016.

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