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Feature Christmas 2017: Natural phenomena

Wine glass size in England from 1700 to 2017: a measure of our time

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 13 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5623
cropped thumbnail of infographic

Christmas infographic available

Click here for a visual overview of English wine glass sizes through the ages

  1. Zorana Zupan, research associate,
  2. Alexandra Evans, MPhil student,
  3. Dominique-Laurent Couturier, senior statistician,
  4. Theresa M Marteau, director and professor of behaviour and health
  1. Behaviour and Health Research Unit, Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England
  1. Theresa M Marteau: tm388{at}

Wine glass capacity in England has increased sevenfold in 300 years. Can downsizing reduce wine consumption? Theresa Marteau and colleagues investigate

Wine, mistletoe’s seasonal partner,1 may be a feature of some rather merry Christmas nights, particularly for women.2 As we approach the culturally legitimised deviancy of festive drinking, we suggest that size does matter: look at the wine glass in your hand.

A sharp rise in wine consumption

Alcohol’s adverse effects are well documented: it is the fifth largest risk factor for premature mortality and disability in high income countries and the seventh largest worldwide.3 The amount and form of alcohol consumption in England has fluctuated over the past 300 years, largely in response to economic, legislative, and social factors.4 Until the later 20th century the forms most commonly drunk were beer and spirits, as wine was for the richer Scrooges rather than the poorer Cratchits.45 Alcohol consumption in general then started to increase, and wine consumption rose almost fourfold during 1960-80, almost doubling again during 1980-2004.4

Increased drinking since the mid-20th century reflects greater affordability, availability, and marketing of alcohol products, and more liberal licensing has led supermarkets to compete.467 Environmental cues such as the design of drinking glasses—particularly their size—may also have contributed to increased drinking, particularly of wine.8910

Larger tableware is known to increase food consumption11: plate sizes have increased over the past 100 years,12 likely contributing to the prevalence of obesity and overweight.1314 But less is known about glassware’s relation to how much we drink. Studying wine glasses’ capacity over time is an initial step in considering, firstly, whether any changes in their size may have contributed to the steep rise in wine drinking seen in the past few decades and, secondly, whether reducing …

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