The fresh calls for calorie counts on alcohol labels stem from a report commissioned by the Royal Society for Public Health. The survey of more than 2,000 UK adults found that eight out of ten did not know or guessed incorrectly the calorie content of a large glass of wine – which is on average between 150 and 200 calories.
Of those adults who do drink, nearly 10% of their daily calorie intake comes from alcohol, according to the RSPH, which adds that calorie counts would help people make “informed choices” before they buy. Over two thirds (67%) said they “actively support” the introduction of calorie information on packaging.
The organisation wants calorie counts to appear alongside the number of units, daily guidelines, advice and pregnancy warnings, which companies agreed to put on packaging as part of Responsibility Deal pledges to the Government in 2011.
Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of RSPH, says: “Calorie labelling has been successfully introduced for a wide range of food products and there is now a clear public appetite for this information to be extended to alcohol to help individuals make informed choices. With 2 in 3 adults overweight or obese and 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.”
The proposal from the RSPH aims to help tackle the nation’s obesity epidemic as well as curb excessive drinking.
It has taken the findings to the newly appointed European Union Health Commissioner in an attempt to heap pressure on the commission’s decision in December on whether to extend nutrition labelling to alcoholic drinks.
Cramer says: “While we continue to back unit labelling for alcoholic drinks, we believe that many people find calorie labelling easier to translate into their everyday lives. We know that the EU Commission is due to publish it’s findings on extending nutritional labelling to alcohol in December and would be extremely surprised if they didn’t back this measure to improve the public’s health.”
The UK drinks industry says legislation is not the way forward, claiming that they have already proved health information on labels can be delivered ” faster and more effectively” though voluntary action in partnership with Government.
A spokeswoman for the alcohol industry trade body The Portman Group says: “Drinks producers can play a key role in informing and educating consumers and are open to further discussions about calorie information. However, it is essential that alcohol content, not calorie content, should primarily inform consumer decision-making.”
Ian Twinn, ISBA’s director of public affairs says the reports findings “miss the point rather spectacularly”. Alcohol producers have consistently focused the public’s mind on responsible drinking, he adds.
‘”Today’s PR campaign from the obesity lobby confuses the binge drinking and obesity messages. Surley doctors and public health officials need to wonder why people do not understand the blindingly obvious that most food and drink will make us fat if we have too much and do not follow a balanced diet. Campaigns to make us aware of this simple fact would be a lot more effective than hectoring campaigns against consumers and businesses,” says Twinn.
The RSPH’s report is the latest attempt to force alcohol companies to signpost the calorie content of their brands. The industry successfully lobbied for their products to be excluded from EU rules, which came into effect this year, that mean all packaging for food and non-alcoholic drinks must highlight ingredients and basic nutritional information.
Alcohol makers have looked to innovation and marketing to help quell concerns about the nutritional value of their products. SABMiller has tested lower calorie beers in the past in some markets, while Diageo has been trialling a low calorie version of its Smirnoff vodka in the US.