Health information on alcoholic beverage containers: has the alcohol industry’s pledge in England to improve labelling been met?
Summary and key quote
The alcohol industry is not meeting its own labelling pledges, made under the failing ‘Responsibility Deal’.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that labelling information frequently falls short of best practice, with fonts and logos smaller than would be accepted on other products with health effects.
The UK Public Health Responsibility Deal was launched in 2011 as a public-private partnership among industry, government, public bodies and voluntary organisations. Organisations involved make voluntary pledges designed to improve public health.
Over 100 organisations have signed the alcohol labelling pledge, promising to “ensure that over 80% of products on shelf will have labels with clear unit content, NHS guidelines and a warning about drinking when pregnant.”
This pledge consists of three required elements:
- The number of units in the alcoholic drink,
- The Chief Medical Officers’ daily guidelines for lower-risk consumption,
- A warning about the risks of drinking while pregnant.
Accompanying guidance states that this information should be clear, legible, displayed on the primary packaging and not difficult for consumers to find. Companies are encouraged to use a font size no smaller than the main body of information.
The researchers looked at labelling on the 100 top-selling UK alcohol brands. Overall, alcohol labels very frequently fall short of best practice, with poor legibility and clarity a particular problem.
One finding of particular concern was that the pregnancy logo was significantly smaller on wine bottles than on beer/lager/cider containers (5.1mm vs 7.1mm). In the UK, men are more likely to consume beer than women, and women are more likely to consume wine.
Lead author Mark Petticrew, Professor of Public Health Evaluation at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:
Alcohol labelling can help consumers make an informed choice about health risks and about consumption, so it is important that it is clear and legible. Our findings suggest that this is very often not the case.”
In the United Kingdom, alcohol warning labels are the subject of a voluntary agreement between industry and government. In 2011, as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal in England, the industry pledged to ensure that 80% of products would have clear, legible health warning labelling, although an analysis commissioned by Portman found that only 57.1% met best practice.
The researchers assessed what proportion of alcohol products now contain the required health warning information, and its clarity and placement.
Survey of alcohol labelling data.
Analysis of the United Kingdom’s 100 top‐selling alcohol brands (n = 156 individual products).
The researchers assessed the product labels in relation to the presence of five labelling elements:
- information on alcohol units,
- government consumption guidelines,
- pregnancy warnings,
- reference to the Drinkaware website and
- a responsibility statement.
The researchers also assessed the size, colour and placement of text, and the size and colouring of the pregnancy warning logo.
The first three (required) elements were present on 77.6% of products examined. The mean font size of the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) unit guidelines (usually on the back of the product) was 8.17‐point. The mean size of pregnancy logos was 5.95 mm. The pregnancy logo was on average smaller on wine containers.
The UK Public Health Responsibility Deal alcohol labelling pledge has not been fully met. Labelling information frequently falls short of best practice, with font and logos smaller than would be accepted on other products with health effects.