The UK Wants to Fight Binge Drinking by Mandating Smaller Glasses

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The British government has a plan to reduce binge drinking among its citizens: Mandate smaller wine glasses in restaurants.

The government agency Public Health England, whose mission is “to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities,” wants to reduce the maximum size of the glasses to a capacity of 250 ml (the equivalent of a third of a bottle of wine if the glass were filled to the brim). Today, 300 ml and 370 ml glasses are common, and some are as large as 450 ml.

The idea, according to a story headed “Shrink your drink” in the British publication The Telegraph, is that when wine is poured from a common bottle or carafe, more than a standard serving might end up in the glass, leading people to underestimate the amount of alcohol they’ve actually consumed. Restaurants know this: The volume of wine they sell has been found to increase by 7% when they use 370 ml rather than 300 ml glasses.

The size of wine glasses has doubled since the 1990s, and are now as much as seven times larger than they were in the early 18th century. Public health officials say that the larger sizes have encouraged binge drinking. (Binge drinking is a problem in America, too. You may be surprised by which city has the heaviest drinkers in your state.)

Not surprisingly, those who sell wine for a living don’t like the idea of smaller glasses. “Great wines need space in a glass to be exposed to oxygen to make them more expressive” Daniel Keeling, proprietor of London’s Noble Rot wine bar, told The Telegraph.

Anyway, public policy experts point out that the people most at risk for binge drinking probably don’t order wine in restaurants. Christopher Snowdon, head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, told The Telegraph that “It is a sign of how out of touch public health campaigners have become that they think the size of wine glasses is a pressing issue that requires government action.”

Limiting glass size might not work anyway. Diet and nutrition gurus have long suggested that serving food on smaller plates will help people to eat less — but a 2018 Israeli study found that when people are hungry, the trick doesn’t work. So if people are thirsty….