Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Scottish public and leading health experts back changes to alcohol labelling

New research released today [5 May 2021] suggests that people in Scotland would back UK Government plans to include calorie and health information on alcohol products.

If you struggle to know how many units of alcohol are in your beer, or how much sugar is in your wine, then you’re not alone – it’s not required on the label. But there is strong support for having this information.

A new poll from YouGov asked the public what legal requirements they would like to see for alcohol labelling. The majority of those in Scotland supported more information being included on labels including:[1]

  • 75% of people want the number of units in a product on alcohol labels
  • 59% of people want calorie information on alcohol labels
  • 48% of people want the amount of sugar on alcohol labels

The findings come on the same day that Alcohol Focus Scotland and SHAAP (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems), along with other leading health charities, medical royal colleges and academics, as well as MPs, have written to the Health Secretary calling for mandatory alcohol labelling.

The letter was sent ahead of a UK Government consultation on better labelling for alcohol products; a move which is welcomed by the signatories.

Alcohol is currently exempt from the labelling requirements for food and non-alcoholic drinks.

Alcoholic drinks are only required to display the volume and strength (in ABV) and common allergens. Information on nutritional values (including calories), ingredients, health warnings or the number of units of alcohol the product contains is not required and is therefore largely absent from labels.

The letter signatories, including Alcohol Focus Scotland and SHAAP (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems), argue that displaying nutritional information on alcohol labels can empower people to take control of their health. Alcohol is very energy dense, with a large glass of white wine having the equivalent calories as a slice of pizza. For those who drink, alcohol accounts for nearly 10% of the daily calorie intake, with around 3.4 million adults consuming an additional day’s worth of calories each week – totalling an extra two months of food each year.[2]

In addition to calorie labelling, the signatories support providing further health information on alcohol labels, including the Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said, “Currently, it is impossible for people to make an informed choice. Unlike for other food and drink, there is no legal requirement to provide nutrition or calorie information on alcoholic products. It can’t be right that more information is required on a pint of milk than on a bottle of beer or wine.

“As well as information about what is in our drink, it is important that the harms to our health are also made clear. Alcohol causes cancer and other serious diseases, yet awareness of this is low. The public want and need this information.  We all have a right to reliable information available directly on bottles, cans and menus where it can usefully inform our decisions.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “The consultation on alcohol labelling is welcomed by both the public and many of the leading health experts in this country.

“People both want and deserve to know what is in their drinks. We already empower consumers to make decisions about their health by displaying calorie content on food and soft drink labels, so why should alcohol – a product linked to 10 deaths a day in Scotland - continue to be exempt?

“As well as calorie labelling, we need prominent health warnings on labels, including drink driving and pregnancy warnings as studies suggest that this could help reduce alcohol harm by increasing knowledge of the health risks and prompting behaviour change.”

The consultation on calorie labelling is expected to begin in the summer.

[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+).