Time to legislate on the marketing of low-carb beers

15 February 2010

Low-carb beers are not a healthy choice and it is time the government legislated against marketing that suggests otherwise, according to public health researchers from Deakin University and the Cancer Council Victoria.

In a letter published in this week’s issue of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), the researchers suggest that the popularity of low-carbohydrate beers represents an “insidious health risk” particularly for vulnerable groups such as young women.

“People are mistaken if they think that low-carb beers are a healthy alternative to regular strength beers,” said Dr Peter Miller, a senior research fellow with Deakin’s School of Psychology. “The reality is that the difference between low-carb and regular beers in terms of energy is equivalent to a radish or two or maybe a handful of parsley.”

In the MJA letter, the researchers say that any perception that low-carb beers represent a healthy alternative could result in some consumers:
confusing low-carb beers with low-alcohol beers;
believing there will be significant health benefits, such as weight loss, from drinking low-carb beers;
drinking more beer in the belief that there are fewer health consequences, this is of particular concern for people with diabetes or cardiac conditions.

“Given that alcohol is a known cause of short- and long- term problems such as cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, strokes and violent behaviour, we contend that the alcohol content of beer is a far more important health issue that its energy content,” the researchers write.

Based on labeling of a range of beers, published with the MJA letter, the researchers believe that “drinkers are better off consuming low-strength beers in terms of both alcohol content and energy intake”.

“Recognising this fact, the European Parliament adopted the resolution that ‘beverages containing more than 1.2% by volume of alcohol shall not bear health claims’.

“We believe that the Australian government, particularly through its current Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy, should move quickly to enact similar legislation to protect the Australian public from the marketing claims of brewing companies.

“The message should be made explicit: low-carb beers are not a ‘healthy choice’.”

‘The growing popularity of “low-carb” beers: good marketing or community health risk?’ by Peter Miller, Stephen McKenzie, Florentine de Groot and Evie Leslie from Deakin University and Sondra Davoren from the Cancer Council Victoria, is published in the 15 February 2010 issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.

News facts
  • Low-carbohydrate beers are not a healthy alternative to regular strength beers
  • Vulnerable groups most at risk from perception that low-carb beers are healthy
  • Legislation needed for appropriate marketing of low-carb products

Media contact

Dr Peter Miller
School of Psychology
0429 024 844

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

15th February 2010