Bars and restaurants should offer more non-alcoholic than alcoholic drinks to improve the nation’s health, a new study has suggested.
When presented with more sober options, consumers are almost twice as likely to choose a booze-free beverage.
Researchers said in settings such as a busy bar, people are likely to make drink choices quickly, meaning that a higher choice of healthier options gives a higher probability of them being chosen.
The study, led by the University of Bristol and published in BMC Public Health, involved more than 800 adults who drank alcohol every week.
The online experiment consisted of a hypothetical drink selection task, where participants were given one of four different conditions in which to make their choice.
When the proportion of non-alcoholic drinks was greater than alcoholic drinks, 49 per cent of people chose a non-alcoholic drink including soft drinks and alcohol-free beer.
When this was reversed, the percentage of people choosing the non-alcoholic alternatives dropped to 26 per cent.
Dr Anna Blackwell, from the University of Bristol, said that non-alcoholic options are often displayed less prominently in restaurants, pubs and bars.
She explained: ” Many offer at least one type of alcohol-free beer, but as this is often bottled and kept in the fridge behind the bar, there is greater effort required for customers to choose this option over an alcoholic beer available on draught.
Peer pressure is also a factor in drinking alcohol, so people want to choose drinks that look alcoholic she added.
The study involved researchers from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), the University of Bristol and the University of Cambridge.
The researchers believe increasing the non alcoholic options on offer could lead to healthier behaviour.
Professor Marcus Munafo, from the National Institute for Health Research’s Bristol Biomedical Research Centre, said: “Implementing these findings in the real world will take some thought and will need to involve discussions with pubs and bars to ensure it is viable.
“But there is growing interest in measures that would serve to increase choice and encourage healthier behaviour.
“More and more pubs and bars are offering alcohol-free beer on draught.
They are now planning a study in a real-world setting, which will examine the impact of introducing alcohol-free beer on draught in pubs in Bristol.
Bristol town council has been considering interventions into pubs and bars in order to help customers make healthier choices.
Last year, there was a proposal raised by the local authority to require every pub in the city to have non-alcoholic beer on tap.
A report to the city council’s health and wellbeing board recommended pubs should be required to have at least one alcohol-free option on draught “to reduce alcohol consumption”.
Alcohol-free drinks are enjoying a boom in sales. They are the fastest-growing part of the drinks sector.
Dr Blackwell explained: “In the longer term, widening the choice available for customers and increasing exposure to non-alcoholic drinks could help shift social norms around drinking these products.
“Given the growing market for alcohol-free beer, wine and spirits, this sort of intervention is timely and of interest not only to policy makers, but also licence holders and drinks manufacturers.”