Beware of the halo effect: alcoholic drinks with a low sugar content are not so healthy


Low-sugar drink. Sounds healthy. Like going on a diet, right?

Researchers at Cancer Council Victoria have found that low-sugar alcoholic beverages “can create a false sense of security in women.”

They suggest this “misconception may lead people to drink more”.

And there’s the pitfall: Excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk of weight gain and chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.

They also found that women were also “less likely to say they would adjust their diet and physical activity if they consumed these low-sugar alcoholic beverages.”

In other words, they wouldn’t talk about going to the gym for a night out, or talk about eating more fruits and vegetables to offset the impact of alcohol on their health.


Because they truly believe they chose a healthier option.

The researchers say that’s not true, and there’s no way to know the nutritional profile of these drinks, because manufacturers aren’t required to put this information on the label.

Low-sugar alcohol can just be an excuse to drink more. Photo: Getty

Meanwhile, the researchers say the happy consumer is being misled by the “health halo” effect of alcoholic beverages labeled as low-sugar.

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This halo effect is quite interesting, and perhaps a little outrageous – suggesting that marketing really is a demonic art.

As the researchers report, consumers tend to generalize from a specific beneficial trait (such as low sugar content) to the assumption that the product has other healthy traits (such as fewer calories or less alcohol).

The manufacturer has not said so, but the consumer assumes that this is the case. This leads to an overall rating of the product as the healthier option.

How many people are true believers?

About 75 percent of Australian adults – people who had consumed alcohol in the past 12 months – were taken hostage by the marketing.

A national survey, cited by Cancer Council, found that many Australians believed that health-focused marketing claims – such as ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘low carb’, ‘no added sugar’, ‘low calorie’ – meant that an alcoholic drink was better for them than a product without these claims.

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Of course we all believe what we want to believe.

The new study

The new study is led by Dr. Ashleigh Haynes, David Hill Research Fellow at Cancer Council Victoria’s Center for Behavioral Research in Cancer. This was in collaboration with the University of Melbourne and colleagues.

The researchers recruited 501 Australian women, ages 18 to 35, from an online survey panel that signed up.

Half of the participants viewed images of products with a low sugar claim or a related claim, and half viewed identical products with no claims.

Participants did this using six images of ready-mixed (RTD) distilled spirits if they had consumed them in the past 12 months, or cider drinks if they had consumed them in the past 12 months.

Where participants had consumed both, they were randomly assigned to one or the other.

Since these were just images, the women were asked to rate the products for various health measures.

The authors found that products labeled “low sugar” were rated as significantly lower in sugar and kilojoules/energy, as healthier and less harmful to health, and more suitable for inclusion in a weight management plan and healthy diet than identical products. products without a healthy claim on the label.

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The senior author says:

dr. Haynes has previously researched the labeling of alcohol products. In September she published an article in the British magazine Institute for Alcohol Studiesin support of an audit she had conducted into the health labeling of beverage products in Australia.

She writes: “In Australia, the alcohol industry opposed the introduction of mandatory pregnancy warnings and managed to campaign to have them banned from the back label when they were introduced in 2020. estate’.

“Many Australians are unaware of the serious health effects of alcohol and this is a gap that label reforms could help address to potentially reduce alcohol consumption at the population level.”

Consultations are currently underway in Australia and New Zealand to consider proposals for mandatory energy labeling of alcohol products and a ban on nutrient content claims.


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