Voluntary pledge on calorie content in alcoholic drinks is failing

Only 1% of alcoholic drinks sold in supermarkets carries information on calorie labelling, according to a new report published in the journal Public Health.

Alcohol is a major source of “hidden” calories in the diet of adults who drink and a significant contributor to obesity.

In 2011, alcohol retailers and producers in England therefore pledged to provide consumers with information on the calorie content of alcoholic drinks as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal (RD).

One of the core commitments made by signatories was to “foster a culture of responsible drinking, which will help people to drink within guidelines.”

The Conservative Government has mothballed the RD. Researchers from the policy innovation research unit at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have found that it wasn’t driving change.

Some 70% of the signatories “made no clear commitment to provide information or made no mention of calorie labelling in their pledge delivery plans”, the team explain in their new paper.

Meanwhile, progress reports were only available for a minority of signatories in 2012 and 2013. Most signatories (86%) provided progress reports in 2014, but the majority (74%) did not mention alcohol calories.

Researchers also visited 55 stores in the South of England from June to September 2014 to assess the extent of calorie information provided in the alcohol sections of the stores. No information was provided in any of the stores.

They also examined data for 156 alcohol products to see if they reported calorie information on the label, and found that such information was very rarely provided – it appeared on “only about 1% of products”.

The team concluded that one of the stated purposes of the RD – to provide consumers with the information to make informed health-related choices, including providing information on the calorie content of alcoholic drinks – did not take place “to any significant extent”.

The findings echo those in a more extensive study of the RD back in 2015.

The voluntary implementation of alcohol calorie labelling by industry needs to be “carefully monitored to determine whether and how it is done”, said lead investigator Professor Mark Petticrew.

He added that the “lack of provision of information on alcohol calories makes it more difficult for people to make informed choices about their own health”.

Research by the Royal Society for Public Health in 2014 showed that 67% of UK adults “actively supported” the introduction of calorie information on packaging.

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