I was pleased to sign this open letter to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, calling for better labelling requirements for alcoholic drinks.
A new poll from YouGov asked the public what legal requirements they would like to see for alcohol labelling. The majority of those asked supported more information being included on labels including:
- 75% of people want the number of units in a product on alcohol labels
- 61% of people want calorie information on alcohol labels
- 53% of people want the amount of sugar on alcohol labels
There is broad national support for this proposal, so the letter, signed by a group of 94 leading health experts, including charities, medical royal colleges and academics is in line with public opinion.
We are calling for the same nutritional information that is published on all food and non-alcoholic drinks to be required on alcoholic drinks as well. In addition, health warning, similar to those already published on tobacco products, should be printed on alcoholic products.
The full letter reads:
Dear Secretary of State
We are writing to express our support for the inclusion of calorie and health information on alcohol product labels. We agree with you on the importance of consumer choice and that it is only fair to give individuals the right information to make good decisions about their food and drink. However, when it comes to alcohol, consumers are not currently provided with the information they need.
The majority of the public agrees and wants to know what is in their drinks, so we were disappointed to see how the Government’s plan to introduce better alcohol labelling was covered in parts of the media recently. New research shows that 75% of people want the number of units in a product on alcohol labels, 61% want calorie information, and 53% want the amount of sugar.
Displaying calorie information on alcohol labels can empower people to take control of their health. Alcohol is very energy dense, with a large glass of white wine having the equivalent calories as a slice of pizza. For those who drink, alcohol accounts for nearly 10% of the daily calorie intake, with around 3.4 million adults consuming an additional days’ worth of calories each week – totalling an additional two months of food each year. Yet, the majority of the public (80%) is unaware of the calorie content of common drinks.
In addition to calorie labelling, we support providing further health information on alcohol labels, including the Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines. Alcohol is linked to 80 deaths a day in the UK, and yet, alcohol harm is poorly understood by drinkers: only one in five people know the drinking guidelines, and only one in ten can spontaneously identify cancer as a health consequence of alcohol. Alcohol labels are an effective tool to change that: a study in Canada showed that consumers exposed to health warnings on labels were three times more likely to be aware of the drinking guidelines, and were also more likely to know about the link between alcohol and cancer.
The current voluntary system of alcohol labelling is not working. Legislation is now necessary to empower consumers and provide transparency. Despite the Government’s efforts to encourage alcohol producers to reflect the drinking
guidelines on labels, research by the Alcohol Health Alliance shows that more than 70% of the labels reviewed did not include the up-to-date guidelines.
We commend the Government’s decision to consult on alcohol calorie labelling and encourage you to use this opportunity to include wider health information, such as the Chief Medical Officers’ drinking guidelines, to empower people to make informed health choices and reduce alcohol harm.
 All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The YouGov survey was conducted on behalf of Action on Smoking and Health. Total sample size was 12247 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18/02/2021 – 18/03/2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).