Reducing the alcohol content of beer or other beverages may reduce its harmful effects such as injuries or deaths due to accidents and other alcohol-related chronic diseases like liver cirrhosis and cancer.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly one-quarter of deaths among those aged 20 to 39 can be attributed to alcohol.
‘Decreasing the ethanol content in alcoholic beverages can lower blood alcohol levels and prevent injuries, accidents and alcohol-related diseases.’
"The idea is that a small reduction in alcohol - such as beer with four percent ethanol content versus six percent - would reduce alcohol intake per drinker even if the same overall amount of beverage is consumed," said Jurgen Rehm, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada.
Ethanol is the most harmful ingredient in alcoholic beverages. Decreasing ethanol would lead to lower blood alcohol levels in drinkers, said the researchers.
But the concern is that drinkers would notice the difference in alcohol content and consume more to compensate or switch to other beverages with more alcohol. "We know from experiments that consumers can't distinguish between beers of different strengths," said Rehm.
In a study, the participants were given beers with lower and higher alcohol content on two different occasions and most of them did not report differences in how they felt after these sessions. The participants had a significantly lower blood alcohol concentration with lower-alcohol drinks.
Alcohol with more than 3 percent of ethanol is taxed in the Northern Territories of Australia. This resulted in fewer alcohol-related deaths. Alcohol-free drinks could be a cheaper alternative to alcohol in bars or restaurants and also reduce alcohol harms.
The researchers said that whether lowering the strength of alcohol can reduce the burden of alcohol harms will depend on how any measure is implemented and evaluated. However, the evidence suggests it is worth considering as a "win-win" for public health efforts and alcohol producers.
The study was published in the journal Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology.