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?

    • Alcohol and drug use is the fifth leading cause of death and disability globally for men, and the eleventh for women (Global Burden of Disease Study, 2017)
    • 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 (OECD, 2015)


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

 Key Studies:

  • Would increasing the price of sugary soft drinks influence purchases of alcohol?

    The UK Government levy on sugary drinks producers began in April 2018, potentially influencing the cost of a large range of non-alcoholic beverages.

    This study looked at how increasing the price of non-alcoholic drinks could influence purchases of alcoholic drinks, such as beer, wine and cider, in supermarkets.

    We found that increasing the price of sugary drinks could increase purchases of lager, while increases in the price of diet drinks could increase purchases of beer, cider and wines.

    Effect of increasing the price of sugar-sweetened beverages on alcoholic beverage purchases: an economic analysis of sales data. Quirmbach, Cornelsen, Jebb, Marteau, Smith, 2018.

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  • Does labelling wine and beer as high or low alcohol affect perceptions of their strength?

    We examined consumers’ perceptions of strength (%ABV) and appeal of alcohol products using low/high verbal descriptors.

    Verbal descriptors of lower strength wine and beer formed two clusters and effectively communicated reduced alcohol content. The verbal descriptors Low, Lower, Light, Lighter, and Reduced formed a cluster and were rated as denoting lower strength products than Regular, but higher strength than the cluster with intensifiers consisting of Extra Low, Super Low, Extra Light and Super Light.

    Similar clustering in perceived strength was observed amongst the high verbal descriptors. Regular was the most appealing strength descriptor, with the low and high verbal descriptors using intensifiers rated least appealing.

    Impact of low alcohol verbal descriptors on perceived strength: An experimental study. Vasiljevic, Couturier, Marteau, 2017.

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  • 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 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, Bignardi, Hollands, Marteau, 2017.

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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, 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, Hendry, Marteau, 2017.

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  • Are we taking too narrow a view on the impact of 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.

    In this collaboration with colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the UCL Institute of Education among others, we put 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, Shemilt, Lorenc, Marteau, Melendez-Torres, O’Mara-Eves, Stautz, Thomas, 2017.

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  • Do 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, Marteau, 2016.

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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*, Brown*, King, Shemilt, Marteau, 2016. (* = 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 this set of bar studies, we found that increasing the size of wine glasses led to an almost 10% increase in wine sales for some comparisons between smaller and larger glasses. However, we did not see significant differences for some other comparisons between glasses of different sizes.


    Does wine glass size influence sales for on-site consumption? A multiple treatment reversal design. Pechey, Couturier, Hollands, Mantzari, Munafò, Marteau, 2016.

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    Wine glass size and wine sales: a replication study in two bars. Pechey, Couturier, Hollands, Mantzari, Zupan, Marteau, 2017.

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    In an earlier study looking at people’s perceptions of the amount of wine in different glasses, 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 Glass Size and Shape Influence Judgements of the Volume of Wine? Pechey, Attwood, Couturier, Munafò, Scott-Samuel, Woods, Marteau, 2015.

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Publications relating to alcohol: