Citizens have a right to know what is in the products they buy. Most food and beverage products include ingredient, caloric information as well as sugar and other nutritional information on product labels. This helps people better understand the nature of the product, linked risks, and whether to buy it or not.
But alcohol products in the United Kingdom still remain exempt from including sugar and caloric information on their labels. Neither do they display health warning labeling despite being a health harmful product that can cause cancer, heart disease, and other health and social problems.
The lack of information and health warning labeling on alcohol products is keeping people in the dark about the true nature, content, and potential risks of the products of the alcohol industry.
The sugar and calorie content of wine in the UK
The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) UK analyzed the sugar and calorie content of 30 red, white, rosé, fruit, and sparkling wine products sold in the UK. While there was a wide difference in the sugar and calorie content in the products, the information was missing from the labels. Thus, keeping people in the dark.
None of the 30 wine products analyzed by AHA UK had sugar content on the label. Only 20% of the products had caloric information.
The current government guideline for maximum sugar intake is 30 grams a day. AHA’s analysis shows that it is possible to reach this amount entirely by just two medium glasses of wine. The lower alcohol content wines were the most sugar-packed.
People could be opting to buy low alcohol content wine thinking it is healthier and being duped because the label does not show the sugar content.
AHA’s analysis further showed that two medium glasses of the most calorific wines contain more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger. The high alcohol content wines usually had the most calories.
Shoppers who buy milk or orange juice have sugar content and nutritional information right at their fingertips,” said Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, the chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) UK as per The Guardian.
But this information is not required when it comes to alcohol – a product not just fuelling obesity but with widespread health harms and linked to seven types of cancer.”Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, chair, Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) UK
The problem of alcohol labeling in the UK
In the UK, the alcohol industry has “committed” to self-regulate alcohol labeling. This means they have volunteered to include certain information on alcohol product labels. But the industry has been failing for years to even implement their own “commitments”.
When the UK’s Chief Medical Officer updated their low-risk alcohol use guidelines in 2016, the alcohol industry’s self-appointed “social responsibility” front group, the Portman Group, agreed with Government that it had three years to put these on labels – meaning a deadline of September 2019. But long after that voluntary deadline many alcohol products in the UK still do not have the guidelines on their labels.
Alcohol industry self-regulation of alcohol labeling has led to various types of labels. Different sectors of the alcohol industry decide to include or omit certain elements. To make matters worse: when health information is included in labeling, it is often inaccurate or outdated. There is no cross-industry consensus or enforcement.
Alcohol labeling is woefully inadequate in this country and allows the alcohol industry to decide what information it will and won’t include on its products, despite alcohol claiming the lives of 70 people a day in the UK,” said Alison Douglas, the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, as per The Guardian.
The alcohol industry has dragged its feet for long enough – unless labeling requirements are set out in the law, we will continue to be kept in the dark about what is in our drinks.
People want and need reliable information directly on bottles and cans, where it can usefully inform their decisions.”Alison Douglas, chief executive, Alcohol Focus Scotland
A previous study by AHA UK measured and recorded over 400 labels on alcohol products available in supermarkets and shops. The researchers looked for eight key elements in these products:
- The Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk alcohol use guidelines,
- Number of alcohol units per container and per serving,
- A pregnancy warning,
- A warning which highlights the health risks of alcohol consumption,
- Nutritional information (including calories),
- A warning about driving under the influence of alcohol, and
- An under-18 age warning.
The study found very disappointing results:
- More than 70% of labels did not include the low-risk alcohol use guidelines, over three years after they were updated and way past the deadline the alcohol industry had agreed with the Government.
- The industry-funded Portman Group called themselves a “social responsibility body” but only 2% of their members included the correct low-risk alcohol use guidelines.
- More than half (56%) of labels included no nutritional information.
- 37% of labels listed only the calorie content on the container, and just 7% displayed a full nutritional information table.
- Nearly a quarter (24%) of labels surveyed contained misleading, out-of-date health information, such as the old UK alcohol use guidelines or alcohol use guidelines from other countries.
- Health information was often illegible.
- Average height of the text displaying information about alcohol units were 2mm which is below the 3.5mm required to be easily readable.
- There were inconsistencies in labeling even between the same product sold at different locations, with some showing updated alcohol use guidelines and others showing old guidelines.
UK Government’s planned consultation on alcohol labeling still not published
In 2020, the government of the UK said they will hold a public consultation on alcohol labeling. The government plans to include caloric information on alcohol labels, but no health warnings. However, this public consultation has not been published yet.
The AHA UK is calling on the government to publish the promised consultation and include mandatory health warnings on alcohol products as well as caloric and sugar content information.
Last year a study published in the journal Addiction found that enhanced alcohol labeling improved knowledge about low-risk alcohol use guidelines in the United Kingdom.
More than 7,000 volunteers each saw one type of label on various alcohol products (beer, wine, liquor). 500 participants also saw a health warning.
The study found that all the enhanced label designs improved knowledge of the guidelines compared to the industry standard label. The best-performing designs showed a picture of containers, servings, or a pie-chart with the guidelines in a separate statement underneath.
Knowledge of guidelines more than doubled (increased from 22% to around 50%) with these best-performing labels.
As well as calorie labeling and nutritional information, we need prominent health warnings and the UK chief medical officers’ low-risk weekly alcohol use guidelines on labels,” said Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, the chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) UK as per The Guardian.
Studies suggest that this could help reduce alcohol harm by increasing knowledge of the health risks and promoting behavior change.”Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, chair, Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) UK