RSPH calls for mandatory calorie content on alcohol labels

26th January, 2018 by Nicola Carruthers

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is urging drinks manufacturers to add health warnings and calorie content to the front labels of all bottles to raise public awareness of the effects of alcohol.

The Royal Society for Public Health proposes that health warnings and calorie content is added to front labels of alcohol bottles

In the Labelling the Point report published today (26 January), the RSPH proposes a new approach to the way alcoholic drinks are labelled.

Citing the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) 2017, the RSPH said that research shows that less than one in six people (16%) are aware of the government’s low-risk alcohol guidelines of no more than 14 units a week.

Meanwhile research conducted by the RSPH in 2014 showed that 80% are unable to correctly estimate the calories in a glass of wine.

The proposed scheme includes mandatory inclusion of the government’s low-risk drinking guidelines, with the suggestion that a cigarette-style warning of the link between alcohol and health conditions such as bowel and breast cancer be added.

It also wants a prominent drink-drive warning and calorie counts, which could encourage some young people to choose lower strength drinks. Research has suggested there could be as much as a 20% swing to lower abv alcohol if young people realised the high calorie content of their drinks.

The recommendations are based on a survey of almost 1,800 UK adults, which it conducted with the Portman Group, the alcohol industry standards body.

Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of RSPH, said: “Consumer health information and warnings are now mandatory and readily available on most products from tobacco to food and soft drinks, but alcohol continues to lag behind. If we are to raise awareness and reduce alcohol harm, this must change.

“Our research demonstrates the potential contribution better labelling could make to a healthier drinking culture, especially for younger drinkers and those from more deprived backgrounds who value clear health information the most. As Britain exits the EU, we ask that any additional regulatory freedom be used to strengthen that contribution – not to diminish it.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the AHA, said: “The decision last year by the Portman Group to weaken their recommendations on what should appear on alcohol labels clearly showed that alcohol producers wish to withhold information on alcohol and health from the public.

“Their decision not to endorse the findings of this report is yet more evidence that producers cannot be relied upon to communicate the risks linked with alcohol.”

In response to the report, John Timothy, chief executive of the Portman Group, said: “The original research we co-funded with the RSPH, found little public interest in a radical overhaul of drinks labelling and strong opposition to cramming more information on pack.  The study shows that 86% of consumers only look at labels for factual information and branding with 80% saying they would like to see less cluttered labels. When asked specifically about health, 70% said the current approach was about right.”

Last month, a report by Brand Finance estimated that the global drinks industry could face losing almost US$300 billion if it is forced to abide by plain packaging regulations.

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