You limit yourself to two cups of coffee…one slice of cake…and only a smidgen of other tempting indulgences. But what about your wine consumption? Is one glass really as modest as you think it is?
When it comes to food consumption, it’s well-known that portion sizes have increased steadily over the past few decades. Fueled by supersized meals—served up on increasingly larger dishes—waistlines as well as the incidences of diabetes and other serious health conditions have ballooned in recent years.
Not surprisingly, people are also drinking more alcohol—especially wine. For example, there was a fourfold increase in wine consumption from 1960 to 1980, and then it doubled again from 1980 to 2004. All this imbibing has come at a cost to our health. The harmful effects of alcohol are rated the fifth-largest risk factor for premature death and disability in high-income countries.
Faced with these facts, researchers began to wonder: Is there an association between wine consumption and the size of the wine glass? The question had not been studied, so scientists at the University of Cambridge recently took the first step in documenting changes to the design and size of drinking glasses.
Recent study: The researchers delved deeply into the issue, measuring the capacity of wineglasses that have been available in England from 1700 to 2017. To do their analysis, they consulted experts in antique glassware, museum curators—and even the Royal Household, which has commissioned new glassware for monarchs for nearly 150 years. Online auction houses and catalogs were also searched for older and current glasses, and a large department-store inventory was used to assess contemporary glasses.
The sobering results: The capacity of wineglasses grew substantially over the more than 300-year time period studied. In the 1700s, wineglasses held an average of 2.2 ounces. By the 2000s, capacity reached 14 ounces…and in 2016, the average capacity was up to 15.2 ounces! The researchers note that the growth in capacity was quite gradual throughout most of the study period, but the rate of increase sped up dramatically beginning in the 1990s—corresponding with the increase in wine consumption.
What was driving this trend in wineglass supersizing?
The researchers did not have a firm answer but speculated that the US may have played a role. As the demand for larger wineglasses in the US market increased, manufacturers in England seemed to have responded by making bigger glasses of their own. At the same time, bars and restaurants may have seen the jumbo glasses as a perfect opportunity to boost their sales of bottles of wine.
The study described above cannot conclude that the larger capacity of wineglasses has led to increased alcohol consumption, but such a hypothesis may certainly be bolstered by the association found in this recent analysis. In fact, the concept is quite plausible, as other studies have shown that food and beverage consumption increases with larger plates and cups.
Bottom line: If you are limiting yourself to “just one glass” of wine, be aware of the size of the glass. You may be consuming more than you think! Sticking to a pour that doesn’t exceed half a glass (or less) can be a good way to control your consumption.
Editor’s note: Alcohol’s effect on the body changes dramatically as a person ages. Read more here about the little-known health risks linked to drinking after age 45.