Labels encouraging responsible drinking struggle to get the message through
People view labels on alcoholic drinks encouraging responsible consumption as a ploy by the industry to be seen as caring and are unlikely to lead to people drinking less.
24 October 2022
That is the key finding of research led by Dr Emma Davies of Oxford Brookes University, published today in the British Psychological Society’s British Journal of Health Psychology.
The UK alcohol industry committed to a voluntary ‘responsibility deal’ with the government in 2011, pledging to label at least 80 per cent of alcoholic drinks with unit content, guidelines on responsible drinking and pregnancy warnings.
The new research asked 20 drinkers aged between 21 and 63 for their views on the effectiveness of these labels, and considered whether it is likely that labelling can contribute to reducing people’s alcohol consumption.
All participants were shown three types of labels, one set promoting responsible drinking, one set with positive health messages (drinking less reduces risk) and one set with negative health messages (drinking more increases risk), and asked about their views on the labels and drinking more widely.
The interviews found that the participants viewed responsible drinking messages as a ploy by the alcohol industry to be seen as caring without taking tangible action, and there was little support for the use of labels.
Despite 18 of 20 participants being classified as risky drinkers using the AUDIT-C screen for alcohol use, they generally positioned themselves as responsible and knowledgeable drinkers, distanced from the problem drinkers at which the labels were seen to be aimed.
They did view novel health information, particularly on the risks of cancer associated with alcohol, as more impactful and potentially effective.
Dr Emma Davies, Reader in Psychology at Oxford Brookes University, and lead author of the study, said:
“We know that excessive alcohol use can cause health problems and that the government’s voluntary agreement with the alcohol industry in 2011 on product labelling was an attempt to encourage consumers to consider the risks of drinking.
“Our research has shown that generic messages on responsible drinking are unlikely to be effective and that messages need to be more personally relevant to consumers.
“Many people who are considered risky drinkers using existing measures view themselves as responsible and moderate in their alcohol consumption, and product labelling is unlikely to be effective unless this view can be challenged.”