Health experts have warned that alcohol labelling continues to fail consumers, as new research reveals most alcohol packaging does not display health warnings, ingredients, calories, sugar content or nutritional information.
The Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) – a coalition of more than 60 organisations working together to end alcohol harm – is now calling for the Government to make it a legal requirement for alcohol companies to display nutritional information and health warnings on their products.
In a new report, the AHA examined 369 alcohol products at locations across the UK to find out what information is available to consumers on alcohol labels.
- Just 20% of the products examined provided the full list of ingredients
- 41% of products stated calorie content
- 6% of products displayed sugar content
- 5% of products provided full nutritional information
- 65% of products included the up-to-date CMO drinking guidelines
- 3% of products included a general health warning
In the UK, alcoholic drinks are only required to display the volume and strength (in ABV) and common allergens on labels. Information on nutritional values (including calories and sugar content), ingredients, or health warnings is not required and is therefore largely absent from labels.
This contrasts with all other food and drink products which are required to provide information on nutritional values and ingredients. In May, the Government also made it a requirement for calories to be displayed on most restaurant menus as part of its drive to reduce obesity. Alcoholic drinks were exempt from these requirements – despite alcohol accounting for nearly 10% of a drinker’s daily calorie intake.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said:
“Alcohol’s continued exemption to the rules and standards followed by the rest of the food and drinks industry is detrimental to our health. Alcohol is not only a risk factor for cancer but it’s fuelling obesity – with some alcoholic drinks containing more calories than a Mars bar and others containing more than double your recommended daily sugar intake. Given the choice, most alcohol producers are leaving this vital information off the labels, keeping consumers in the dark about what’s in the products they are drinking.
“Those who profit from the sale of alcohol cannot be trusted to willingly provide product information. Legislation on alcohol labelling must ensure that consumers have the full picture of the contents and risk to health of the products they buy through Government making clear labelling on all alcohol products a legal requirement. This information can reduce alcohol harm by increasing knowledge of the health risks associated with alcohol and prompting behaviour change.”
Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, said:
“Alcohol increases our risk of 200 health conditions and, like obesity, is a major cause of diabetes, stroke, cancer and high blood pressure. Despite this, millions of us are completely unaware of the Government’s low-risk drinking guidelines, making us unable to make informed choices about our drinking.
“It is our right, as consumers, to have the low-risk drinking guidelines clearly shown on the labels of alcoholic drinks, along with nutritional information, including calories, ingredients, the units per serving, and the risks of consuming alcohol. This would support us all to make healthier choices about our drinking. The alcohol industry itself has proved utterly incapable of providing this information voluntarily. The Government must now step in and publish its planned consultation on alcohol labelling without further delay, and urgently act to place the regulation of alcohol labelling under democratic control.”
Why do we need better alcohol labelling?
Alcohol labels are an effective tool in informing consumers about what is in their drink. 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 more likely to know the link between alcohol and cancer.
A recent University of Stirling study found that young adult drinkers are more likely to perceive alcohol products as “unappealing” if they display prominent health warnings. The findings of the research indicate warnings could lead to a reduction in consumption and related harms.
Industry self-regulation has continued to fail to provide consumers with information needed to help them to make informed choices about their drinking. More than a third of alcohol product labels fail to inform consumers of the Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guideline, despite the alcohol industry agreeing to update labels to display this guideline by September 2019.
In 2020, the UK Government committed to holding a consultation on whether to include calorie information on alcohol product labelling. Information on sugar content and ingredients is not included in the plans. Almost two years on, the consultation is yet to be published.
What do the public think?
Not only do the public have a right to know what is in their drink, they also want to know.
A 2021 survey published by the Alcohol Health Alliance and conducted by YouGov found 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.
 RSPH Alcohol calorie labelling https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/policy/drugs/alcohol-calorie-labelling-.html
 AHA wine suvey (2022) https://ahauk.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Wine-survey-2022-results-1.pdf
 Action on Sugar (2020) https://www.actiononsugar.org/media/actiononsugar/Alcohol-Survey-Report.pdf
 University of Victoria Media Release (2020) Alcohol warning labels reduce sales, change minds.
 YouGov Plc. The YouGov survey was conducted on behalf of Action on Smoking and Health and published by the Alcohol Health Alliance. 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+).