Campaigners call for better alcohol labelling amid public confusion

·3-min read

Health campaigners are calling for better alcohol labelling as a survey found just one in five Britons know how many calories are in a glass of wine.

Just 20% of the public could correctly estimate how many calories are in a medium 175ml glass of wine at 12% ABV (133kcal), the YouGov poll for Action on Smoking and Health found.

Just under a quarter of the public (23%) could correctly estimate how many calories were in a pint of lager at 5% ABV (239kcal).

Estimates were deemed correct in the survey if they were within 50% of the true value.

Just 18% of the public know that the chief medical officers’ drinking guideline is to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, while 34% did not know and 48% answered incorrectly.

The alcohol industry agreed to update labels to display the chief medical officers’ (CMO) weekly guideline by September 2019.

However, research undertaken by the Alcohol Health Alliance at the time showed that more than 70% of labels surveyed did not include the drinking guidelines.

Legally, alcohol labels need only to show the strength of alcohol (ABV), allergens and the container’s volume.

Other information such as ingredients, nutritional information and health risks are optional.

As it stands, the law requires more information to be displayed on a carton of orange juice than on a bottle of wine.

Although many alcohol labels display a website for consumers to visit to find out about health harms from alcohol, just 3% of those surveyed by YouGov had used them.

Alcohol Health Alliance chairman Professor Sir Ian Gilmore said: “Alcohol labelling in this country is leaving consumers in the dark about what exactly their drink contains.

“Displaying basic product information, such as calorie content, empowers the consumer to make informed choices about what, and how much, they decide to drink. This information should be displayed clearly on the product they are buying. They should not have to research basic health information online.

“The upcoming Government consultation on calorie labelling is a great opportunity for change. Requiring the display of calorie content on alcoholic drinks would bring alcohol labelling in line with food and soft drink labelling and would help to address the fact that most adults in the UK do not know the calorie content of alcohol.”

He added: “But the public is entitled to know more than just calorie content. It is concerning that only 18% of the public are aware of the CMOs’ drinking guideline. Including this essential health information on the label, along with other legible important health warnings and drink-drive and pregnancy warnings, would help educate the public about the risks associated with drinking and could help reduce alcohol harm by prompting behaviour change.”

Holly Gabriel, nutrition manager at Action on Sugar, said: “We have long been subjected to inadequate and inconsistent labelling. It is absolutely unacceptable that the alcohol industry is able to get away with not providing full information on its packaging. This is misleading and must stop. Alcohol labelling must be brought into line with food and soft drinks, without delay.

“Previous research by Action on Sugar found excessive sugar content in pre-mixed alcoholic drinks and no clear labelling to guide purchasing decisions – with some drinks containing a whopping 15 teaspoons of sugar per pack, which is double the added sugar an adult should be having in one day.”

Matt Lambert, chief executive of the Portman Group, said: “The alcohol industry actively ensures the provision of information for consumers.

“For over a decade our best practice states that alcoholic drinks have ABV, pregnancy warning symbols or messages and signposting to the independent alcohol information charity Drinkaware; even the outdated 2019 AHA survey recognises that this pretty much universally appears.

“The sector made a commitment in 2019 to put the CMO’s low risk guidance on labels and since that point we have seen this rolled out across a large number of products.

“Many in the sector have made voluntary commitments to putting calories on labels or online – no responsible company is seeking to hide information from consumers.”

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