Source: Schiff et al., Substance Use and Abuse, 2021.
PITTSBURGH, June 10, 2021 – Americans consume more craft beer with higher alcohol content but less beer by volume, according to a new analysis conducted by epidemiologists at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
The study, published online and in an upcoming issue of the journal Substance use and abuse, considered beer bought in stores between 2004 and 2014. This is the first study to examine trends not only in the amount of beer bought, but also in the “beer-specific” alcohol content.
“With the popularity of craft breweries growing and the takeover of such breweries by large industrial and investment companies, we have seen a steady increase in the consumption of higher alcohol beers,” said senior author Anthony Fabio, Ph.D., MPH, adj Professor of Epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. “It is important that public health messages place an emphasis on knowing the alcohol content of beer, rather than just the number of beers consumed, to ensure healthy alcohol consumption.”
The research team received data from the Nielsen Consumer Panel 2004-2014, an annual survey of approximately 35,000 to 60,000 American households with information on shopping. The researchers then meticulously assigned the types of beer they bought to their alcohol content and grouped beers with 4.5% or less alcohol as “low alcohol beers”. with 4.5-5% alcohol as “normal” and beers with more than 5% as “higher alcohol content”.
They found that in 2004 9.6% of household beer consumed had a higher alcohol content; In 2014 it was 21.6%. Meanwhile, the number of 12-ounce beers each household purchased annually fell from 169.4 in 2004 to 150.8 in 2014.
“We were pleasantly surprised to learn that Americans seem to be self-regulating, at least when it comes to domestic beer consumption. Households buy beer with higher alcohol content but drink less beer overall, ”said lead author Mary Schiff, MPH, a PhD student in the Epidemiology Division of Pitt Public Health.
Federal health authorities have long been concerned with the importance of understanding the amount of alcohol in a “standard drink”. Different types of beer have very different alcohol contents, and the amount of liquid in a glass, can or bottle does not tell you how much alcohol is actually in a drink.
“That is why it is important to know how many standard drinks you consume,” said Schiff. “In the US, a ‘standard’ drink contains approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in 12 ounces of regular 5% alcohol beer. With the launch of these beers with higher alcohol content, this rule of thumb no longer applies as beers can contain 8% or more alcohol. So four bottles of normal beer equals four drinks, but four bottles of India Pale Ale could be six and a half normal beers. ”
In this study, the research team was unable to determine whether their results can be transferred to bars and restaurants. It is possible that people will be able to look at the labels and determine the alcohol content of beer they buy in stores or vendors, but this can be more difficult when the beer is served in a pint glass.
The consumption of beer with a higher alcohol content increased significantly from 2011, while the consumption of beer with a lower alcohol content decreased. At that time, the large-scale acquisition of craft breweries was ramping up. For example, there were only 16 such acquisitions in the 21 years from 1988 to 2010, but 20 acquisitions in a quarter of this time between 2010 and 2014.
“During this time, Americans also switched to wine and spirits, and as a result, may have drank less beer,” said Fabio. “We did not research the purchase of alcoholic beverages other than beer, but national reports show a steady increase in wine consumption.”
Finally, the research team found that higher beer consumption was linked to whiteness, lower income, and lower education, all in line with previous studies.
Other authors of this research include Dara Mendez, Ph.D., MPH, Tiffany L. Gary-Webb, Ph.D., MHS, and J. Jeffrey Inman, Ph.D., MBA, all of Pitt.
This research was funded in part by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Grant T32 HL083825.
Via the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health
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