Parents need guidance on zero-percent alcohol drinks

Researchers from Australia, where drinking alcohol used to be the national pastime, are encouraging parents not to give their children zero-percent alcohol drinks.

Zero-alcohol beverages have recently gained popularity as substitutes for adults looking to limit their alcohol consumption. However, zero-percent alcohol drinks may serve as a gateway to alcohol use with adolescents. 

Dr Ashlea Bartram, from Flinders University College of Medicine and Public Health, recently led research that found parents who are confused about alcohol guidelines are more likely to provide zero-alcohol beverages to their teenagers. 

“Many parents want to do what they can to minimise harms from alcohol to their children. For now, we advise a precautionary approach and recommend that parents do not provide zero-alcohol drinks to their adolescents,” says Bartram.

“We know that they are not intended for consumption by children and we would like to see steps towards preventing children and young people from accessing and consuming these products going forward,” she says. 

Alcohol-free beverages (less than 0.5% alcohol) often resemble the same taste, branding and appearance as alcoholic drinks. Zero-alcohol beer, wine and spirits can be sold in non-licensed premises like supermarkets and can be purchased by people under the age of 18. 

Zeroing in on zero-percent alcohol beverages

There are concerns that zero-percent alcohol drinks may encourage adolescents’ earlier interest in alcohol, increase exposure to alcohol company branding and normalise alcohol consumption.

Another recent study, also by the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University, analysed parents’ views on zero-alcohol beverages and their use by adolescents.

“Our research found that parents feel like they don’t have enough information to make an informed decision, and are conflicted on whether alcohol-free alternatives are suitable, healthy or possibly harmful for teenagers,” says Nathan Harrison, the lead author. 

“Parents are sometimes confused by zero-alcohol drinks.  They wonder if giving them to their children might normalise alcohol, because these drinks look so similar.  As a result, around half of the parents we spoke to were concerned that these drinks could result in increased alcohol consumption,” he says.

How parents view and provide zero-percent alcohol beverages can shape whether these drinks serve as a gateway for adolescent alcohol consumption.

“Zero-alcohol drinks are allowed to be marketed and sold in ways that regular alcoholic drinks cannot,” says Christine Morris, Prevention and Advocacy Manager at Cancer Council SA.

“Any amount of any type of alcohol increases the risk of seven types of cancer, and it’s important to make sure that children and young people are not exposed to advertising from alcohol companies that could put them at risk of harm,” she says.

Researchers from both papers suggest that further research is needed to assess the benefits versus harms of zero-alcohol beverages for adolescents so that parents can be accurately informed on whether they should provide alcohol-free drinks to their teenagers. 

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