Alcohol firms 'must label calories'

Drinks companies should label their alcoholic products to show the number of calories they contain as part of a bid to tackle obesity, a health organisation has said.

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Irresponsible drinking is causing an obesity epidemic and threatening public health, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said.

In a paper on the ``invisible'' calories in alcohol, the organisation called for calorie counts to be included alongside the number of units, daily guidelines advice and pregnancy warnings, which drinks companies agreed to include on their packaging as part of a deal with the Government in 2011.

The move was backed by Alcohol Concern but drinks producers said the laws required could take years and people should be more focused on alcohol content.

RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said: ``Calorie labelling has been successfully introduced for a wide range of food products and there is now a clear public appetite for this information to be extended to alcohol to help individuals make informed choices.

``With two in three adults overweight or obese, and given that adults who drink get approximately 10% of their calories from alcohol, this move could make a major difference to waistlines of the nation.''

The RSPH has urged the labelling change to be brought in throughout the EU and called for more research into the relationship between drinking and weight to show the effectiveness of such labels.

The majority of the 2,117 UK adults it asked in a poll this month either did not know or underestimated the number of calories in a glass of wine and a pint of lager.

In a paper on the ``invisible'' calories in alcohol, the organisation called for calorie counts to be included alongside the number of units, daily guidelines advice and pregnancy warnings, which drinks companies agreed to include on their packaging as part of a deal with the Government in 2011.

Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, told BBC Breakfast calorie labelling was a ``great idea'', saying: ``Alcohol itself is quite calorific, it is almost as calorific as fat, which people don't realise. Sometimes you think of drinks as not being part of your calorie intake when in fact they are. There isn't anything low calorie about alcohol at all.

``If you think, if you have a couple of glasses of wine with a meal that's like having an extra course.''

Alcohol Concern chief executive Jackie Ballard agreed, saying: ``People are often unaware of how many calories or units of alcohol are in their drinks and health warnings and nutritional information on drinks would rectify this. Information is vital in helping the public to change their behaviour.

``You walk into any shop and the calorie, fat content, sugar and more are on the back of food packets and we don't see why alcohol should be any different.''

But The Portman Group, which represents alcohol producers, said a decision on labelling would rest with the EU and could take years to complete.

A spokeswoman said: ``Drinks producers in the UK have already proved they can deliver health information on labels faster and more effectively through voluntary action in partnership with government.

``The industry takes all health-related issues regarding alcohol very seriously and actively promotes and funds Drinkaware, which provides calorie information for consumers through apps and on its website.

``Drinks producers can play a key role in informing and educating consumers and are open to further discussions about calorie information. However, it is essential that alcohol content, not calorie content, should primarily inform consumer decision-making.''

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