Is giving kids non-alcoholic beer harmless? Czech experts say it's risky

In Czech culture it's common for children to enjoy the occasional non-alcoholic beer – but can it lead to bad habits later?

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 27.04.2022 13:51:00 (updated on 10.05.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

In cultures where wine is the spirit of choice, tradition dictates that even the smallest members of the family take the occasional sip. The idea being that teaching children about imbibing moderate amounts early on will lead to healthy consumption later.

In the Czech Republic where beer consumption per capita is the world's highest and pivo is regularly enjoyed with meals and at celebrations, it's also customary to give kids sips of beer here and there. Many parents even allow their children to have a non-alcoholic beer from time to time.

A new public service campaign called “Don’t Hop Children” (Nechmel děti) wants to warn parents of the risks associated with doing so while highlighting statistics on how often and what Czech children drink at home.

According to research conducted for the campaign by Nielsen Admosphere, some 23 percent of children drink non-alcoholic flavored beers, while 3 percent drink flavored beers containing alcohol. Parents surveyed admitted serving flavored beers to 36.4 percent of children 11–15 and even 11 percent of children 3–6.

Experts attribute these surprising numbers to the Czech Republic's laissez-faire attitude toward drinking as well as a widespread confusion surrounding the actual alcohol content of these drinks.

Research conducted among 1,000 parents of children aged 3–15 found that 56.5 percent don't consider a beverage with an alcohol content of up to 0.5 percent to be an alcoholic one, and 9.9 percent of parents don’t consider radlers to be alcoholic drinks. In fact, 27.2 percent of parents consider them harmless (this number goes up to 36.7 percent among parents of children aged 11–15).

Have you let your child have a non-alcoholic or low-alcoholic drink?

Yes to both. 22 %
Non-alcoholic yes, but low-alcoholic no. 33 %
No to both. 45 %
55 readers voted on this poll. Voting is open

The data also turned up this surprising figure: a third of parents of children aged 11–15, consider non-alcoholic drinks to be healthier than classic sodas, and 15 percent of parents do not consider small amounts of alcohol to be harmful to their children.

Petr Freimann, the organizer of the annual Suchej únor (Dry February) campaign, which is behind the "Don't Hop" initiative, said mixed marketing messages also contribute to the problem, particularly in the case of the increasingly popular flavored low-alcoholic beers and radlers.

“In the case of non-alcoholic beverages, all sorts of ‘beer soft drinks’ and radlers, the situation is more complicated precisely because they can be – and often are – perceived as a kind of soft drink in advertisements or in stores,” Freimann said.

“It's important to treat these – at least for children – in the same way as alcoholic beverages, where the alcohol content and the position of the beverage on the shelves are clearly defined,” he adds.

Experts say giving kids non-alcoholic and low alcoholic beers gets them accustomed to the bitter taste of hops while setting them up for at-risk behavior around the real deal later in life. They also say that children who have been allowed to drink at home are much more likely to consume alcohol in other situations.

Researchers, who found that 78 percent of Czech parents consume alcohol in front of their kids, say the data confirms that parents likely aren't aware of the risks associated with giving kids less-potent alcoholic beer drinks.

“Even though [these drinks] are among the so-called non-alcoholic variety, the 0.5 percent alcohol content for a small child’s body is similar to that of an adult having a normal beer,” Petr Popov, head of the Clinic of Addiction Studies of the General Hospital in Prague, said.

The project aims to distill more research about the risks of drinking from an early age into the public discourse while encouraging a gradual shift in social attitude in a country where "alcohol is considered an indisputable part of family celebrations and other social occasions."

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