Mandatory calorie labelling is one of the strategies set out in the government’s obesity strategy, published today.
While the industry has been making moves to provide nutritional and ingredient information on alcoholic beverages voluntarily, it is not currently mandatory for beverages over 1.2% ABV.
'Public largely unaware of the calorific content of alcohol'
Estimates from Public Health England’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2014) suggest that, for those who drink alcohol, it accounts for nearly 10% of the calories they consume.
“We know that each year around 3.4 million adults consume an additional day’s worth of calories each week from alcohol, that is nearly an additional 2 months of food each year,” says the policy paper, entitled ‘Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives’.
“Despite this, in the UK alcoholic drinks are not required to provide any information about how many calories they contain.
“We also know that the public is largely unaware of the calorific content of alcohol. Surveys have shown that up to 80% of adults did not know the calorie content of common drinks.
“Therefore, we will consult before the end of the year on our intention to make companies provide calorie labelling on all pre-packaged alcohol they sell, so when consumers shop for alcohol, they have all the information they need to make healthier choices.
“The consultation will also cover introducing calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks sold in the out-of-home sector, for example bought on draught or by the glass."
Reacting to the government's plans for mandatory alcohol calorie labelling, Alcohol Health Alliance UK said the upcoming consultation is 'very welcome'.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK said: “When the calorie equivalent of a large glass of white wine is the same as a slice of pizza or a cocktail is the equivalent of a cheeseburger, it is clear why alcohol products should be included in the Government’s plans to tackle the obesity crisis."
Last month a World Health Organization (WHO) report said that alcohol labelling across Europe – such as providing information on ingredients, nutritional values and potential harm from alcohol – was ‘limited’ and falls short of its recommendations.
The WHO European Region has the highest alcohol consumption per capita in the world. While the WHO recommends that alcoholic beverages provide consumers with alcohol information, it is not mandatory in most countries. However, it is generally mandatory to provide similar information on other products such as non-alcoholic beverages such as non-alcoholic beverages, food and tobacco.
Although the alcohol industry has been taking big steps in recent years to provide such information voluntarily, the WHO says the ‘voluntary industry commitments, although increasing in amount and scope, either are not monitored transparently or do not meet WHO recommendations’.
Consequently, one of the report's top policy recommendations is to make alcohol labelling for nutritional and ingredient labelling mandatory.