Our research about alcohol

Our alcohol research focuses on how features of the environment might consciously or unconsciously influence the amount of alcohol we drink. We assess whether interventions to reduce the amount we drink are likely to be effective, and whether people would support these interventions.


Why is reducing alcohol consumption important?

According to a recent OECD report (2015):

  • Alcohol consumption is the fifth leading cause of death and disability globally
  • Approximately four in five drinkers would decrease their risk of death if they reduced their drinking by one unit of alcohol per week, which equates to just under one small glass of wine (125ml), or half a pint of lager/beer

Click on the images below to find out more about the work we have been doing in this area.

 Key Studies:

  • Reactions on Twitter to updated alcohol guidelines

    In January 2016, the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers released a public consultation regarding updated guidelines for low-risk alcohol consumption. To assess the immediate online response to the new guidelines, we conducted a content analysis of comments on Twitter using the hashtag #alcoholguidelines made in the week following the guidelines being announced.

    Our study, published in BMJ Open, found that more tweets were unsupportive (49%) than supportive (44%). We identified eleven themes in the comments. Unsupportive themes included encouraging other to drink, disagreement with the scientific backing of the guidelines, and complaints about ‘nanny state’ intrusion.

    In the paper we discuss the benefits of social media for understanding responses to health policy messages, and consider the possibility of using emotional tagging to improve the reach of health communication.

    Reactions on Twitter to updated alcohol guidelines in the UK: a content analysis. Stautz K, Bignardi G, Hollands GJ, Marteau TM.

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  • Can ‘low’ labels encourage healthier choices?

    Labelling lower strength alcohol products with terms such as ‘low’ and ‘light’ could reduce alcohol consumption by encouraging people to choose these products over higher strength alternatives.

    In a systematic review, recently published in BMC Public Health, we investigated the impact of ‘low’ labelling of alcohol, food and tobacco products on selection, consumption, and perceptions of products among adults.

    A very low quality and equivocal evidence base, made up of 26 eligible studies, indicated that ‘low’ labelling can shift consumer perceptions of products, though may have the potential to encourage overconsumption due to products being perceived as healthier.

    What do we know about the effects of exposure to ‘Low alcohol’ and equivalent product labelling on the amounts of alcohol, food and tobacco people select and consume? A systematic review.
    Shemilt I, Hendry V, Marteau TM.

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  • Systems perspectives on alcohol advertising

    There is currently limited, low quality evidence on whether restrictions on alcohol advertising have an impact on alcohol consumption. Focusing only on this evidence could lead to poorly informed policy decisions based on a narrow understanding of how alcohol advertising influences alcohol use.

    A recent paper, prepared in collaboration with colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the UCL Institute of Education among others, and published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, puts forward the case for a systems perspective of the relationship between alcohol advertising, advertising restrictions, and alcohol consumption. A systems-level analysis would consider findings from multiple systematic reviews alongside the broader evidence base to understand how alcohol advertising fits into a complex web of interrelated factors (the ‘alcohol system’) contributing to alcohol consumption.

    Alcohol advertising and public health: systems perspectives versus narrow perspectives.
    Petticrew M, Shemilt I, Lorenc T, Marteau TM, Melendez-Torres GJ, O’Mara-Eves A, Stautz K, Thomas J.

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  • Alcohol warnings reduce urges to drink

    In an online pilot study of 152 young adult drinkers, we found thatStop those who had been randomized to view alcohol warning adverts reported reduced urges to drink alcohol compared to those randomized to view either alcohol promoting or non-alcohol adverts.

    This effect was fully explained by displeasure felt in response to the warning adverts, indicating that media campaigns that can produce negative affect about the health consequences of alcohol use can reduce the desire to drink.

    Viewing alcohol warning advertising reduces urges to drink in young adults: an online experiment. Stautz K, Marteau TM.

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  • Does alcohol marketing influence drinking?

    adsbeerRestricting alcohol marketing is suggested to be a cost-effective policy option to reduce alcohol consumption. There is debate as to whether alcohol marketing exposure leads to increased drinking.

    In a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, experimental studies, we found that participants who viewed alcohol advertising consumed more alcohol after viewing than those who viewed non-alcohol advertising; equivalent to between 0.39 and 2.67 alcohol units for males and between 0.25 and 1.69 units for females. This was based on combining results from seven studies.

    We did not find evidence that viewing alcohol portrayals in TV programmes or films led to increased drinking, based on combining results from six studies.

    These results lend some qualified support to the public health case for restrictions, bans, or other policies that would reduce exposure to alcohol advertising on visual broadcast media to reduce alcohol consumption.

    Immediate effects of alcohol marketing communications and media portrayals on consumption and cognition: a systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental studies. Stautz K*, Brown KG*, King SE, Shemilt I, Marteau TM. (* = joint first authors)

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  • Does wine glass size influence consumption?

    Swine glass smallelling wine in larger-sized wine glasses may encourage people to drink more, even when the amount of wine served remains the same. In our study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, we found that increasing the size of wine glasses led to an almost 10% increase in wine sales.

    In an earlier study, published in PLoS One, we found that the same amount of wine was seen as less in larger compared to smaller glasses, and in narrower compared to wider glasses, for larger portions of wine.

    Does wine glass size influence sales for on-site consumption? A multiple treatment reversal design.
    Pechey R, Couturier DL, Hollands GJ, Mantzari E, Munafò MR & Marteau TM.

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    Does Glass Size and Shape Influence Judgements of the Volume of Wine? Pechey R, Attwood, Couturier DL, Munafò MR, Scott-Samuel NE, Woods A, & Marteau TM.

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  • How acceptable do people find different policies for trying to reduce how much we all drink?

    drink_less_carousel_image_3The acceptability of different types of intervention can vary, with price interventions often having less public support.

    In our study, people found minimum unit pricing less acceptable than reducing the number of retail outlets, which in turn, was seen as less acceptable than restricting advertising.

    However, when information about likely effectiveness of intervention was presented it served to increase acceptability so that ultimately most people supported each of the interventions.

    Public acceptability of population-level interventions to reduce alcohol consumption: A discrete choice experiment. Pechey, Burge, Mentzakis, Suhrcke & Marteau, 2014.

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  • Do supermarket end-of-aisle displays affect sales of drinks?

    white wine in bottles in wine shopEnd-of-aisle displays are often used by supermarkets to promote sales. We found from our study that:

    • Putting drinks on end-of-aisle displays increases sales of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. For alcohol, this sales increase was similar to 4–9% decrease in price.
    • Limiting the use of aisle ends for alcohol and other less healthy products could be an effective way of increasing the healthiness of our weekly shopping.


    Sales impact of displaying alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in end-of-aisle locations: An observational study. Nakamura, Pechey, Suhrcke, Jebb & Marteau, 2014.

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  • Did the Scottish ban on multi-buy promotions reduce sales of alcohol?

    multibuyA ban on selling alcoholic products on multi-buy promotional offers, i.e. “buy one get one free” (BOGOF) or “2 bottles for £8”, was introduced in Scotland in 2010.

    Our study suggested that the multi-buy ban had no effect on the amount of alcohol sold in the 9 months after it was introduced.

    Tighter regulation of price promotion may be needed to reduce sales of alcohol.

    Impact on alcohol purchasing of a ban on multi-buy promotions: a quasi-experimental evaluation comparing Scotland with England and Wales. Nakamura, Suhrcke, Pechey, Morciano, Roland & Marteau, 2013.

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  • Do we know if physical environment interventions to reduce alcohol consumption work?

    glass with red wine, tasting, restaurantWe carried out a systematic scoping review of studies investigating the effects of physical environment interventions on behaviours including alcohol consumption. Such interventions include changing the size of glasses in which alcohol is served or reducing the number of outlets selling alcohol.

    Findings from our review suggest:

    • only 7.3% of 346 studies identified related to alcohol use, and that
    • physical environment interventions are largely under-explored in terms of how they might help reduce alcohol consumption.


    Altering micro-environments to change population health behaviour: towards an evidence base for choice architecture interventions. Hollands, Shemilt, Marteau, Jebb, Kelly, Nakamura, Suhrcke & Ogilvie, 2013.

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Publications relating to alcohol: