Researchers say drinkers wouldn’t notice if alcohol content were reduced, but benefits to health and safety could be big

Researchers believe that lowering the alcohol content of beer and other beverages could help to reduce their negative health effects.

Worldwide, alcohol causes significant disability and death. According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is responsible for nearly 25% of all deaths in the 20-39 age group. Jurgen Rehm, a researcher, stated that even though alcohol consumption is the same as usual, a slight reduction in alcohol content (e.g. beer with four percent ethanol versus six percent) would result in fewer drinks. Rehm is the director of the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. His colleagues and he concluded that a lower level of ethanol, the most dangerous ingredient in alcoholic drinks, would result in lower blood alcohol levels for drinkers. This would decrease the likelihood of injuries and accidents as well as the potential for alcohol-related illnesses such as liver cancer and liver cirrhosis.

One concern is that people might notice the reduced alcohol content and either drink more or switch to products containing more alcohol. This is not the case, according to analysis. Rehm stated in a center news release that “we know from experiments that consumers cannot distinguish between beers with different strengths.” The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology journal published the paper Aug. 10.

Researchers noted that in Australia, a tax was imposed on alcohol products containing more than 3 percent ethanol. This led to a wider range of lower-quality beer. According to the researchers, producers are more likely to support lower alcohol content than other options such as higher taxes and marketing restrictions or tighter consumer access. Rehm stated that the proposal was unique in that public health concerns about reducing alcohol consumption are not in conflict with those of the alcohol industry. Joy Dubost, senior director of science and external affairs at The Beer Institute, represents brewers.

She stated that light beer, which is the largest type of beer sold in America, contains less alcohol (4.2%) than the average beer in America (4.6%). She also said that this is lower than hard liquor’s alcohol content. Dubost stated that the institute encourages moderate consumption by legal drinking-age adults.

Updated 01/24/22