British Liver Trust urges Prime Minister to improve alcohol labelling

Posted on: 6th July 2020

As part of our work with the Alcohol Health Alliance, the British Liver Trust is campaigning for improved labelling on alcohol products.

The British Liver Trust has written to the Prime Minister, urging him to include nutritional, calorie, and health labelling on alcohol products as a component of his plans to tackle obesity. The letter aims to make this relevant to both the discussion on obesity and the justifications for alcohol labelling. We strongly believe that the inclusion of calorific labelling on alcohol products should be included as part of a series of policies to reduce the prevalence of obesity.

The number of deaths from liver disease has risen by more than 400% since the 1970’s. Alcohol is the leading cause of liver disease mortality and the biggest cause of this rise. Every year, admissions to hospital due to alcohol rise, causing a huge burden on the NHS.

Pamela Healy OBE, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust, says:

“I believe that people should be able to make informed health choices, yet when it comes to alcohol they are not provided the information they need to do so.

“It is crazy that a bottle of orange juice includes by law a range of nutritional and calorific details, but when that juice is mixed with alcohol none of that information is required.”

Alcohol products with an ABV of greater than 1.2% currently have almost no requirement to display nutritional, calorific, or other information. There is also no requirement to display the Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs’) low risk guidelines or information about the health risks of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol is energy dense

While the direct links between alcohol consumption and obesity are complex, alcohol is undeniably a significant source of calories.

Alcohol is itself very energy dense with a unit of alcohol containing 56 calories, nearly as much as butter.

  • 330ml can of 5% beer contains around 129 calories
  • 175ml glass of wine (12%) has about 158 calories.

For comparison,

  • Cadbury Mini Roll contains 115 calories
  • 330ml can of Coca-Cola contains 139 calories.

This means that, per ml, wine contains more than double the calories of Coca-Cola. The public understanding of this is extremely low: four in five people do not know or underestimate the number of calories in a glass of wine, and three in five do the same for a pint of lager.

More public awareness is needed

Public awareness of the health risks of alcohol, and the CMOs’ low risk drinking guidelines is also limited. More than four in five people do not know the CMOs’ low risk guidelines, and only one in ten can spontaneously identify cancer as a health consequence of alcohol.

This is unsurprising as there is no requirement to display either health warnings or the CMOs’ guidelines on alcohol labels. Recent research has found that despite Government guidance and a commitment from industry to provide the current guidelines, more than 70% of alcohol labels still do not include them.

To ensure that consumers have reliable access to this health information, we need to require its inclusion.

The link between alcohol and obesity

Alcohol matters when considering the health risks of obesity, as the consequences of alcohol and obesity are interrelated.

Alcohol is a risk factor for obesity-related diseases, such as high blood pressure, stroke, and cancers including breast cancer.

Furthermore, liver disease is not only a potential consequence of both obesity and alcohol but together they amplify each other leading to a multiplicative increase in risk.

Public Health England reports that for those with a BMI of over 35, the risk of liver disease at any given level of alcohol consumption is effectively doubled.

“We need to enable people to take control of their health”

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Communications and Policy at the British Liver Trust, says:

“The current crisis has grimly highlighted the pressing need to take seriously the impact of diet and lifestyle on health.

“Now, more than ever, we need to enable people to take control of their health and make informed, healthy decisions.

“Currently, they are not provided the information they need to make these choices about alcohol. We believe that now is the opportunity to redress this balance and give people the information they need to make their own healthy choices.

“Improving alcohol labelling is a good start to tackling alcohol harm, but it needs to be part of a broader set of policies. These include policies that impact the price, promotion, and availability of alcohol, which are recommended by the World Health Organization as the most cost-effective ways of tackling alcohol harm.”

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