Drinks companies should label their alcoholic products to show the number of calories they contain as part of a bid to tackle obesity, according to a health organisation.
Irresponsible drinking is causing an obesity epidemic and threatening public health, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has warned.
The majority of the 2,117 UK adults they 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.
Of the adults across Britain who drink, nearly 10% of their daily calories come from alcohol, the RSPH said, adding that labels would help people to make “informed choices” before they buy.
“Nutritional information including calorie content should be extended to alcoholic beverages”
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 paper said: “RSPH believes that given alcohol provides approximately 10% of energy intake for adults who drink, public confusion about the calories contained within alcoholic drinks, and the use by consumers of calorie labelling on food products to make informed choices, nutritional information including calorie content should be extended to alcoholic beverages.”
The RSPH has urged the labelling change to be brought in throughout the EU.
More research into the relationship between drinking and weight is needed, it said, to look at the potential effectiveness of using labels which show calorie counts to reduce the amount of alcohol people consume.
“80% of adults have no idea what the calorie count is in anything they’re drinking”
RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer told the BBC the poll findings were “quite startling”.
She said: “80% of adults have no idea what the calorie count is in anything they’re drinking and if they do think they have an idea they totally underestimate it anyway.
“It (calories on labels) could help the nation’s waistlines as well as probably reduce alcohol consumption.”
Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, told BBC Breakfast: “Calorie labelling is a great idea and we know it does help some people improve their calorie intake, but for others of us, we don’t notice it, so calorie labelling is one of a number of things that can be helpful.
“Alcohol itself is quite calorific, it is almost as calorific as fat, which people don’t realise,” she said. “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,” she added.
“If you have a couple of glasses of wine with a meal that’s like having an extra course”
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 though 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,” she said.
“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,” she added.