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Weighty claims don’t add up

In response to a new ad campaign by Carlton & United Breweries, GrogWatch writer Ben dishes out some facts on whether low-carb beer does actually help with weight loss. 

When two new television advertisements for Carlton & United Breweries’ Pure Blonde ‘low carb/calorie’ beer played during the recent AFL finals campaign, it was a sly attempt to cash in on our weight worries in the lead-up to the festival season.

The advertisements are almost identical fantasies, one geared towards women, the other towards men. Set in an inviting, brightly lit pub, people are mostly slim, happy and socialising. Two customers wait to order drinks. In one advertisement, a woman asks for a white wine and a Pure Blonde. A staff member places a glass on the bar and fills it with wine, and as he does so, the pristine white surface of the bar cracks. Try as she might, the customer is unable to pick up the wine glass – presumably because it is so heavy.

In the second advertisement, a man does the same, but with a can of beer. Sliding along the bar towards him, the can rips up chunks of tiles in its wake. Of course, in both advertisements, it is the bottle of Pure Blonde that can be raised and drunk with ease.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pub or a bunch of patrons look so good. But it is the cracking of the bar’s surface that carries the real and most problematic message of the advertisements. Not only does it symbolise the apparent ‘calorie or carb heaviness’ of the drink for a weight-conscious consumer, but also, in an almost unconscious way, the anchoring of alcohol as a regular part of our social experiences. Worried about carrying extra kilos at the races? Want to slim down for summer but don’t want to miss the end-of-year parties? CUB would have you believe that all it takes is a drink switch. If only weight management were that easy.

It’s the amount of alcohol in beer that contributes the most to weight gain. In 2010, VicHealth and the Australian Drug Foundation did some mythbusting on low-carb alcohol products. VicHealth noted that beer doesn’t contain many carbohydrates to begin with, and that people may ‘drink more in the mistaken belief these drinks are better for weight control’. John Rogerson, the Australian Drug Foundation CEO, advised ‘If you’re worried about your health and your weight but still want to have a drink, choose lower-alcohol beer instead.’

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Now, five years later, while CUB is spruiking the same quick fix, the perception of our relationship to alcohol has changed. There’s a growing recognition of the need for social experiences and lifestyles that are less dependent on alcohol and driven by safer and more sensible consumption – individually and communally.

Some people don’t want to feel pressured to drink while dating. Sporting clubs are increasingly providing friendly and inviting environments where women, young people and non-players are welcome. Workplaces are more interested in how to prevent decreased productivity due to injuries and absenteeism. Recent research has found that regular alcohol consumption over a lifetime significantly increases a person’s risk of mouth and throat cancer, and the Live Lighter campaign recommends limiting alcohol intake to maintain a healthy weight. These all indicate a desire for a society in which we are more caring and compassionate towards ourselves and each other. This can help support better health for everyone – including the management of our weight.

Yet the Pure Blonde advertisements are a useful opportunity to reflect on how we respond to our consumerist culture as we head into the busy festive season. If you’re worried about your weight, you can simply choose to drink lower-alcohol beer.

It’s also worth thinking about how we spend this time with our family, friends and colleagues. Alcohol isn’t a prerequisite for an enjoyable night or a healthy waistline. We can be great company without the booze.