Should alcoholic beverages carry calorie labelling?


Friday, 01 May, 2015

We expect to see calorie labels on all forms of packaged food and drink, but when was the last time you saw a calorie label on a bottle of wine or a can of beer? A leading British public health doctor is calling for calorie counts to be displayed on all alcoholic drinks.

In The BMJ, Dr Fiona Sim, chair of the Royal Society for Public Health, argues that alcoholic beverages contribute to obesity and legislation “should require restaurant menus and labels to make energy content explicit in addition to alcohol content”.

In the EU, beverages that contain more than 1.2% alcohol by volume are exempt from regulation that requires packaged foods to carry labels with ingredients and nutritional information.

Alcohol constitutes an estimated 10% of adults’ daily calorie intake, and yet a recent survey found that 80% of participants did not know the calorie content of common drinks, Dr Sim wrote. What’s worse is that most were completely unaware that alcohol contributed to their total calorie consumption.

“Most women, for example, do not realise that two large glasses of wine, containing 370 calories, comprise almost a fifth of their daily recommended energy intake, as well as containing more than the recommended daily limit of alcohol units,” Dr Sim wrote.

Dr Sim says the fact that some alcoholic drink manufacturers have already adopted nutritional labelling suggests that there is no commercial disadvantage in such a move. However, she warns that information provided to consumers must be “accurate, prominent and meaningful”.

From December 2015, all alcoholic drinks sold through US restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets must carry calorie labelling. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, which is currently under consideration, will, if passed, make Ireland the first EU country to mandate calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks.

Dr Sim also challenged medical professionals who regularly question patients about their weight, eating habits and exercise to start routinely asking about calorie intake through alcohol consumption.

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