Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Health experts call for better alcohol labelling

Leading health experts are calling for better alcohol labelling as new research suggests that most of the public do not know the nutritional information of popular alcoholic drinks. The research also showed that the majority of Scots do not know the Chief Medical Officers’ drinking guidelines and were unlikely to look beyond the label in order to find health information on alcohol.

Key findings

  • 22% of the public could correctly estimate how many calories were in a medium glass (175ml) of wine at 12% ABV
  • 25% of the public could correctly estimate how many calories were in a pint of lager at 5% ABV
  • 1 in 10 (11%) of the public could correctly estimate how many calories were in a single measure (25ml) of spirits at 40% ABV
  • Just 23% of the public know that the Chief Medical Officers’ drinking guideline is no more than 14 units of alcohol per week
  • 3% of the public have visited a website address printed on an alcohol product in order to learn more about the health harms from alcohol

A new poll from YouGov[1] asked the public to estimate[2] how many calories were in a number of popular drinks.

It was found:


Correctly estimated

Incorrectly estimated

Didn’t know

A medium glass (175ml) of wine at 12% ABV



(within 50% of the true value of 133 calories)



A pint (568ml) of lager at 5% ABV



(within 50% of the true value of 239 calories)



A single measure (25ml) of spirits at 40% ABV



(within 50% of the true value of 48 calories)




The public were also asked if they knew the maximum number of units of alcohol that people are advised to drink a week, as recommended by the Chief Medical Officers (CMOs). Just 23% knew that the CMOs’ drinking guideline is a maximum of 14 units per week on a regular basis. 29% of the public did not know and 48% answered incorrectly.

The alcohol industry agreed to update labels to display the Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) weekly guideline by September 2019. Yet research undertaken by the Alcohol Health Alliance at the time showed that more than 70% of labels surveyed did not include the drinking guidelines; over three years after they were updated and after the deadline the industry agreed with the Government.[3]

Labels provide crucial information to consumers, yet the law only requires alcohol labels to show the strength of alcohol (ABV), allergens and the container’s volume. Any other information - such as ingredients, nutritional information and health risks - is optional. This is in stark contrast to the labelling requirements for all other food and drink products, despite alcohol being a class 1 carcinogen. As it stands, the law requires more information to be displayed on a carton of orange juice than on a bottle of wine.

Although many alcohol labels display a website for consumers to visit to find out about health harms from alcohol, just 3% of those surveyed by YouGov had visited a website printed on an alcohol product.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Health Alliance member organisation Alcohol Focus Scotland, said “Is it any surprise that so few Scots know the calorie content of drinks - or the Chief Medical Officers’ weekly low risk drinking guideline - when this information is not routinely provided by alcohol producers? It is unacceptable that a product linked to 10 deaths a day in Scotland continues to be exempt from laws on labelling that apply to everything else we eat and drink.

 “The alcohol industry have dragged their feet for long enough – unless labelling requirements are set out in law we will continue to be kept in the dark about what is in our drinks and what the health risks are. We need reliable health and nutritional information directly on bottles and cans, where it can usefully inform our decisions.

“The forthcoming UK Government consultation on alcohol labelling is a key opportunity to take action to ensure we can all make better informed and healthier choices.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “Alcohol labelling in this country is failing to inform consumers about what exactly their drink contains. Displaying basic product information, such as calorie content, empowers the consumer to make informed choices about what, and how much, they decide to drink. This information should be displayed clearly on the product they are buying. They should not have to research basic health information online.

“The upcoming UK consultation on calorie labelling is a great opportunity for change. Requiring the display of calorie content on alcoholic drinks would bring alcohol labelling in line with food and soft drink labelling and would help to address the fact that most adults in the UK do not know the calorie content of alcohol.

“But the public is entitled to know more than just calorie content. It is concerning that only 18% of the public are aware of the CMOs’ drinking guideline. Including this essential health information on the label, along with other legible important health warnings and drink drive and pregnancy warnings, would help educate the public about the risks associated with drinking and could help reduce alcohol harm by prompting behaviour change.”


Holly Gabriel, Nutrition Manager at Action on Sugar, said: “We have long been subjected to inadequate and inconsistent labelling. It is absolutely unacceptable that the alcohol industry is able to get away with not providing full information on its packaging. This is misleading and must stop. Alcohol labelling must be brought into line with food and soft drinks, without delay.

“Previous research by Action on Sugar found excessive sugar content in pre-mixed alcoholic drinks and no clear labelling to guide purchasing decisions - with some drinks containing a whopping 15 teaspoons of sugar per pack, which is double the added sugar an adult should be having in one day."

[1] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The YouGov survey was conducted on behalf of Action on Smoking and Health. Total sample size was 12247 adults, of which 1021 were in Scotland. 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+).

[2] Estimates for calorie content were deemed correct if they were within 50% of the true value. The answers to some questions do not add up to 100% due to rounding.

[3] Alcohol Health Alliance & Alcohol Change UK (2020) Drinking in the Dark: How Alcohol Labelling Fails  Consumers