Alcohol companies are placing “low carb” and “low sugar” labels on their products. This is misleading and harmful and should be stopped, according to peak health organisations in Australia.
These deceptive claims should never have been allowed as they mislead people into thinking alcohol products are “healthier”.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has called for submissions into its review of sugar claims on alcohol labels, prompted by concerns from health ministers that the labels are confusing.
A submission to the review from the Cancer Council, reported by Guardian Australia, said it strongly opposes FSANZ permitting nutrition claims about carbohydrates and sugars on alcoholic drinks.
All alcohol products increase the risk of cancer, regardless of their sugar or carbohydrate content,” the submission states, as per Guardian Australia reporting
Any marketing and promotion of alcohol products in a way that implies a product is ‘healthier’ must not be permitted, with the exception of appropriately identifying zero- or low- alcohol products.”Cancer Council
The Cancer Council’s submission was written after consultation with other health groups including the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), Alcohol Change Australia, the Public Health Association of Australia, Dieticians Australia and the George Institute.
While the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey found the number of people quitting or reducing alcohol use was increasing, there had been little change in the proportion of people consuming alcohol at high risk levels.
The executive officer of Alcohol Change Australia, Hannah Pierce, said, as per Guardian Australia reporting:
Claims like ‘low carb’ or ‘low sugar’ are marketing tools, not legitimate sources of nutritional information.
Australians should instead be able to access necessary information including the number of standard [alcoholic] drinks and total energy content in an alcoholic product.”Hannah Pierce, executive officer, Alcohol Change Australia
A study by Cancer Council Victoria and public health group LiveLighter found most low-carb beers contain similar levels of carbohydrates and kilojoules as regular beer. The difference in kilojoules is not significant enough to prevent weight gain, the study also found.
Dr Rosemary Stanton, a public health nutritionist, said according to Guardian Australia that total kilojoule labelling on alcoholic beverages was “urgently needed” and should be compulsory. She agreed “low carb” labels should go.
The problem with alcohol is not the carbohydrates, or sugar, which is just a form of carbohydrate,” Stanton said.
The problem is the alcohol content.”
The alcohol industry objects to any suggestions of label changes that are made on health grounds, such as listing the total kilojoules, saying it is too expensive to change the label.
But then they’re very happy to put low carb or low sugar on their products.”Dr Rosemary Stanton, public health nutritionist
Each gram of alcohol contains 29 kilojoules (seven calories), while carbohydrates/ sugars have 17 kilojoules (four calories) a gram.
Low carb and low sugar labels hinder recognition of alcohol risks
In August 2023, the George Institute for Global Health conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,000 adults on behalf of Alcohol Change Australia that asked people to rate the healthiness of different alcoholic products, and to assess how low carb and low sugar messages would affect the number of alcoholic beverages they would consume.
The number of people who understood that alcohol is unhealthy fell from 48% to 40% when a low carb claim was added, and fell to 37% when a low sugar claim was added. This is a 22.9% decline in the recognition that alcohol is harmful to human health.
One in five poll respondents said that if they saw a low sugar claim on an alcoholic drink, they would drink more of that product.
The chair of Cancer Council’s alcohol committee, Clare Hughes, said according to Guardian Australia that nutrition content claims about carbohydrates and sugars should not be permitted on alcohol products “to protect the Australian public from being misinformed”.
As per Guardian Australia reporting, a FSANZ spokesperson said the labelling review had received 82 submissions, which were expected to be made public “later this year”.
The board’s decision, expected in 2024, will be notified to ministers responsible for food regulation who can agree that the standard should become law, or ask for a review.
Already in August 2022, Movendi International revealed that health-oriented marketing on alcohol product labels such as ‘‘low carb’’ and ‘‘no added sugar’’ were misleading people in Australia into thinking these products are healthier than other alcohol products. Nevertheless, these are still full-strength alcohol products and science has proven that no amount of alcohol is healthy. Better alcohol product labeling is needed to ensure people understand the real harm linked to alcohol.