Dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton warned that calls from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) to extend nutritional labelling to alcoholic products could lead consumers to drink more alcoholic, but less calorific products.
“Labelling of single serve alcoholic drinks to show calories and sugars would be useful to those trying to cut down on sugar, or managing their weight,” she told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“However, we have to balance this against the risk that calorie/sugar labelling may drive consumers to choose high alcohol products, such as spirits, as these tend to be lower in calories and sugar compared with low alcohol products.”
Another issue was the drink industry’s view that a single serve bottle could contain up to four units, she claimed.
“This conflicts with the government’s sensible drinking limits which are two to three units daily in women and three to four units in men,” she added.
RSPH is calling on the European Commission to force alcoholic drink manufacturers to introduce calorie labelling on products to help consumers make more informed choices and tackle the UK’s obesity epidemic.
Alcoholic beverages are currently not recognised as food and are therefore exempted, under existing European legislation, from normal food labelling.
Shirley Cramer CBE, ceo of RSPH, claimed there was a clear public appetite for nutritional information to be extended to alcohol.
“With two-in-three adults overweight or obese, given that adults who drink get approximately 10% of their calories from alcohol, this move could make a major difference to waistlines of the nation,” she said.
The European Commission is due to publish its findings on extending nutritional labelling to alcohol in December, Cramer said.
“[I] would be extremely surprised if they didn’t back this measure to improve the public’s health,” she added.
The British Nutrition Foundation said energy labelling on alcoholic drinks would be a “helpful step” to keep people informed about a potentially significant source of calories in the diet.
“In order to help people control their weight it’s important they are aware of the calorie content of the foods and drinks they consume, and alcoholic drinks are part of this,” the BNF’s senior nutrition scientist Bridget Benelam told this site.
But the Portman Group – which represents UK drink manufacturers – said legislation on alcohol labelling was determined by the EU and regulation could take years to complete.
“Drinks producers in the UK have already proved they can deliver health information on labels faster and more effectively though voluntary action in partnership with government,” a Portman Group spokesman said.
Through the Public Health Responsibility Deal, alcohol companies have already labelled 80% of products on shelf with unit content, NHS guidelines and a warning about alcohol and pregnancy, it added.
“The industry takes all health-related issues regarding alcohol very seriously and actively promotes and funds Drinkaware, which provides calorie information for consumers through apps and on its website,” the spokesman said.
It was essential that alcohol content, not calorie content, should primarily inform consumer decision-making, the Portman Group claimed.
“Drinks producers can play a key role in informing and educating consumers and are open to further discussions about calorie information,” it added.
Key alcohol facts
- 67% of the public actively support the addition of calorie labels on packaging of alcohol drinks
- Over 80% of the public did not know or incorrectly estimated the calorie content of a large glass of wine
- Almost 90% did not know or incorrectly estimated the calories in a pint of lager.