You might think you're making the healthier choice by picking up lower strength beer and wine – but it could be more dangerous to your health in the long run if you're taken in by marketing campaigns.
Supermarkets advertising low strength alcohol as alternatives to soft drinks means people could be drinking more alcohol than before, researchers led by the University of Cambridge found.
The team studied lower strength wines and beers sold in the UK by Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons and found they were not being actively marketed as alternatives to regular strength booze.
Instead, marketing messages described them as "lunchtime treats" or "perfect for all occasions", with lower strength beer described as suitable for drinking on additional occasions such as sports events "to refresh thirsty sportsmen and women".
Marketing for lower strength wines and beers was also more likely to include text or images associated with health, information about calorie and carbohydrate content and images of fruit, the study found.
Dr Milica Vasiljevic, corresponding author of the study, published in the open access journal BMC Public Health, said: "Increased availability of lower strength alcohol products has the potential to reduce alcohol consumption if consumers select these products instead of ones with higher alcohol content.
"If not, they may simply increase the number of occasions on which people drink alcohol.
"Our findings suggest that products containing less alcohol than regular strength wines and beers may be being marketed to replace soft drinks rather than products with higher alcohol content.
"Marketing lower strength alcohol wine and beer as being healthier than regular strength products and suitable for all occasions may paradoxically encourage greater alcohol consumption.
"Thus, measures apparently intended to benefit public health, such as the wider availability of lower alcohol products may in fact benefit industry to the detriment of health."
The authors compared messages on 86 web pages advertising 41 lower strength wines and 48 web pages marketing 16 lower strength beers.
They found that marketing messages about alcohol content and health were more often present for lower strength alcohol products than for regular strength products.
They did not find any messages about drinking less or the harm associated with alcohol consumption.
Dr Vasiljevic said: "Future studies could usefully extend the present findings by including other marketing platforms, and going beyond the UK context to examine the marketing messages associated with lower and regular strength wines and beers in other countries."
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