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Mason professor calls for action on ‘supersized alcopops’

October 10, 2019

Flavored alcoholic beverages with high alcohol content, such as Four Loko, pose a significant risk to underage drinkers, according to a professor at George Mason University's College of Health and Human Services.​

Matthew Rossheim, whose research focuses on substance use and related health outcomes, recently published two papers on the popular alcoholic beverage Four Loko, both in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Four Loko is what Rossheim calls a “supersized alcopop,” a sweet, colorful and fizzy drink that appeals to youth and is sold in several fruity flavors. ​

These sweet beverages have a high alcohol concentration and, according to Rossheim, underage drinkers grossly underestimate their alcohol content. For example, the standard watermelon-flavored Four Loko drink in Virginia contains about 4.70 standard alcoholic drinks.​

Rossheim’s research showed that more than 70 percent of the participating students in Virginia underestimated Four Loko’s alcohol content by one or more standard drinks, and nearly one-half (49%) underestimated it by two or more standard drinks. ​

“These products are excessively dangerous, and this is not clearly communicated to the public,” said Rossheim. “This issue needs to be brought to and addressed by the lawmakers and government agencies who can impose and enforce better regulations on these products.”​

According to Rossheim, a large proportion of college students reported underage consumption of Four Loko, drinking an entire can or more, and blacking out, vomiting or both their first time drinking the beverage.  ​

“This is dangerous because underestimation of a product's alcohol content may lead to overconsumption and decisions to drive after drinking,” Rossheim said. “It is important that the labeling is made clearer so that consumers understand how much alcohol they are consuming.”​

Rossheim continued, “Moreover, our findings suggest that policies restricting ‘supersized alcopops’ alcohol content may help consumers better estimate their alcohol content.”​

After the death of a 14-year-old girl, Canada reclassified “supersized alcopops” and restricted the alcohol content within each container to 1.5 standard alcoholic drinks. ​

But in the United States, after 17 state attorney generals asked the manufacturer to voluntarily reduce the alcohol content of Four Loko, the request went ignored and shortly after the manufacturer released new flavors with even higher alcohol contents.​

Matthew Rossheim can be reached at 941-323-0778 or mrosshei@gmu.edu. ​​

For more information, contact Mary Lee Clark at 703-993-5118 or mclark35@gmu.edu

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 38,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.