A study published today in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reveals that there may be a link between today’s bigger wineglasses (glassware in England is nearly seven times as large today as it was 300 years ago) and increased wine drinking in the U.K. This corroborates previous findings that larger wineglasses might cause drinkers to indulge more.

Theresa Marteau, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist at the Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge in England and lead author of the study, says, “A larger cup or glass increases the amount of beverage poured and, in turn, the amount drunk.”  

Here’s what this might mean for you, and how to imbibe safely, this season and beyond.


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How Glass Size May Affect Consumption

In addition to this new research, Marteau and her colleagues published a study in the journal BMC Public Health in 2015 that found that serving wine in larger-than-standard glasses led to a 10 percent increase in sales at a local pub. Another 2015 study—published in the journal PLoS One—revealed that participants were more likely to pour more than a serving’s worth into larger glasses than smaller ones.

Because wineglasses come in such a wide variety of shapes and sizes—ranging in the U.S. from around 6 ounces to more than 33 ounces—it can be almost impossible to judge when to stop pouring. The image below shows just how different 5 ounces of wine can look like in a range of glass sizes. 

An illustration showing what 5 ounces of wine looks like in five different wineglasses.
More on Alcohol

But why might a larger glass cause you to consume more? There are several hypotheses, Marteau says.

Larger glasses hold more, which may lead people to think they’re only having one serving’s worth of alcohol—when they’re actually having three.

“We know from research on food that larger tableware leads to larger servings,” she says, “which in turn leads to people eating more, often without awareness.”

It may also be that drinking out of a larger goblet is more pleasurable because it allows more of the aromas to be released, Marteau says. 

How to Approach Alcohol

For most people, there’s nothing wrong with sipping a glass of wine a day, and it can have its benefits.

Moderate drinking (one drink per day for women, two for men), for example, has been associated with a reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiac-related problems. Wine is also often consumed in a healthier manner—with a meal—unlike beer or liquor.

But even moderate drinking may have its downsides. A study published last June in BMJ found that men who consumed eight to 12 alcoholic drinks per week over 30 years had three times the odds of having an atrophied hippocampus, a possible sign of early Alzheimer’s disease.

Other research has found that moderate drinking may be linked to small but elevated risks of cancer, particularly breast cancer for women, and—especially in smokers—esophageal, mouth, and throat cancers.

And if you consistently consume more than moderate amounts of alcohol, the risk of conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke, as well as various types of cancer, rise.

If you don’t already drink, the potential benefits aren’t a good enough reason to start. And if you find yourself exceeding the recommended daily allowance, the strategies below may help.

Measure. Because eyeballing a standard drink (5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1½ ounces of distilled spirits) can be challenging, use a measuring cup or shot glass to get it right.

Track your drinks. Keeping tabs on how many drinks you have per day or week can help you stay within your limit.

Water it down. Alternate alcoholic drinks with a glass of water or club soda, or sip wine spritzers, with half club soda and half wine.

Talk to your doctor. If you’re at all concerned about your drinking, bring up the issue at your next checkup.