Beer intake did not increase during lockdown

Matt Woodley

4/12/2020 2:41:46 PM

Research shows the beverage, disproportionately associated with risky drinking behaviour, was not consumed more at home despite venue closures.

Beer in fridge door
There was no significant change to off-premises beer consumption during lockdown.

Tough restrictions imposed in the midst of Australia’s first wave of COVID cases saw on-premises alcohol consumption prohibited, as pubs, clubs, restaurants and sporting venues closed nationwide.
However, new research published in Addiction has shown there was no significant change to the amount of off-premises beer purchases during the height of nationwide social-distancing measures.
Lead researcher Dr Brian Vandenberg said reduced opportunities to drink due to bans on large gatherings, reduced tourism and directives to work from home likely contributed, with the findings suggesting people are more likely to drink beer in social situations, such as the footy or at the pub.
‘With beer representing the largest share of total alcohol consumed in Australia and disproportionately represented in risky drinking, there were widely held concerns people would increase their consumption at home, particularly with unemployment rates spiking as a direct result of the pandemic,’ Dr Vandenberg said.
‘Whilst these results are different to self-reported surveys on alcohol use during COVID-19 restrictions in Australia, our analysis likely reflects changes in men’s drinking habits and potentially their preference to drink outside the home.
‘Other factors should also be considered, with previous research showing that budget constraints can lower drinking during economic crises, even when stress increases.’
The findings were determined using almost five years of alcohol sales data from the Australian Tax Office (ATO), which was used to determine the level of beer consumption per capita per week in litres of pure alcohol.
The data was separated into on- and off-premises sales and showed a significant reduction in on-premises beer consumption during lockdowns, but no significant change to off-premises consumption.
The lifting of first-wave restrictions in May saw a notable increase in on-premises beer consumption but no change to off-premises consumption. The increase in on-premises consumption also did not fully offset the reduction that occurred during restrictions, indicating that Australians were not drinking to compensate.
Second-wave restrictions, felt predominately in Victoria and measured from July, also saw an immediate reduction in on-premises beer consumption, but no significant change in off-premises consumption.
Dr Vandenberg said the findings are positive and an unexpected health benefit from COVID-19 restrictions, with alcohol use contributing to 4.5% of total disease burden in Australia.
‘If the reductions in beer consumption are maintained, particularly now as restrictions are eased across the country and we head into Christmas, then substantial longer-term public health benefits are possible,’ he said.
The paper’s authors said ongoing research is necessary to assess how consumption changes as COVID-related restrictions continue to ease in the coming months, alongside research to identify vulnerable groups who may have experienced increases in drinking and harm during the pandemic.
Alcohol remains the most harmful drug used in Australia and is responsible for around one in eight emergency department presentations during the summer months.
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