This New Year’s Eve, think twice before you pick up a glass

A new study published this month in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) shows that during the last 300 years the standard wine glass has increased in size by a staggering sevenfold, with increasing risks to our health.

Just as plate sizes have increased as our waistlines have grown, researchers are concerned that the increasing volume of drinking glasses could have negative effects on our health.

Using an array of sources including the Royal Collection, glasses from the crystal producer Dartington, the John Lewis department store and even eBay, the researchers discovered that wine glass capacity in England has increased from a parsimonious 66ml in 1700 to a liver-groaning 449ml in 2017.

Interestingly, capacity has increased most steeply over the past 20 years, as has wine consumption in the UK.

The authors of the report from the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at the Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, suggest that a glass increases the amount of wine poured and, in turn, the amount drunk. This may reflect “the unit bias heuristic,” in which people consume in units – in other words one cup of coffee, one slice of cake, or one glass of wine.

Given that people may perceive the same volume as less than “one unit” when presented in a relatively empty large glass than when presented in a fuller but smaller glass, consumption may be further influenced by reducing glass-size.

The authors suggest policy could be changed to nudge people’s drinking behaviour, including reducing wine glass sizes in licensed premises and encouraging wine producers and retailers to make popular bottles of wine available in 50cl and 37.5cl sizes, with proportionate pricing in order to encourage drinkers to downsize their wine glasses so that one bottle fills more glasses.

Dr Marco La Malfa, Care UK medical director for Barlborough NHS Treatment Centre, said: “I think this is an interesting study and it raises awareness of a phenomenon that could impact on people’s health and wellbeing in many ways.

“People may drive thinking ‘Well I only had one glass,’ when, in reality, they are over the legal limit. They can consume half their 14-unit recommended weekly alcohol units in one night, in the mistaken belief that three glasses equal three units. As a result, they can put their liver under strain and pile on the pounds if they then drink the same way throughout the week.

“This is compounded by the fact that the volume of alcohol in wine is rising. Hotter summers in the southern hemisphere have played a key part in boosting average percentages of alcohol from roughly 12 to 12.5 in the 1980s to 13.5 to 14.5 today.

“Added to that a 2016 study from the University of California found that the alcohol content in the majority of wines, both white and red, sold in the world over the last decade is, on average, 0.42 per cent higher than claimed on the label.”

Marco’s recommendations for sensible festive drinking

  1. Choose a smaller glass, whether for wine or beer.
  2. Alternate alcoholic drinks and glasses of water to slow down your drinking and keep hydrated.
  3. If drinking wine, check the alcohol label. A 250ml glass of 14 per cent ABV wine will contain 3.5 units – more than double the alcohol of a 125ml glass of 11 per cent ABV wine, which contains just 1.4 units.
  4. Don’t be tempted to “throw back” your drink. Sip your wine and enjoy the flavour.

So, whatever your tipple this New Year, please take a moment to think about your health, stay safe and have a very enjoyable time.