This article was written by Glenis Willmott who is a member of parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee and you can read the full article here
Because alcohol is so high in sugar it contains a significant amount of calories, with an energy content of 7.1 kilocalories per gram. Only fat has a higher energy value per gram than this. A glass of wine contains roughly the same amount of calories as a bar of chocolate, and studies in the UK have shown that alcohol accounts for nearly 10 per cent of the total energy intake amongst adults who drink. Putting aside the other health problems it can cause, such as liver disease and cancer, alcohol is seriously contributing to Europe’s obesity problem.
Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to keep track of the amount of calories you are consuming from alcohol. Unlike all other food and drink, where ingredients and nutritional information is labelled as standard, the most basic of information on alcohol bottles is missing. Most consumers would find it perplexing. If you buy a bottle of tonic water you will know how much sugar is in it, but if you buy a pre-mixed gin and tonic, you will not.
When I was involved in negotiating the EU food labelling rules, I was calling for alcohol to comply with the same rules as all other food and drink. However, due to opposition from some MEPs and industry, alcoholic beverages were exempted from the legislation. This is something we must rethink. By December this year the European commission should report on including alcohol under the food information regulation, particularly on whether information on the calorie content should be provided. I would like to see the commission propose legislative steps to address the problem.
So yet again the industry lobby hard to make sure that there are no labels on their products so far showing the harm that alcohol does but that it doesn’t show the calories either. Now if I was cynical I would argue that is because their new growing market is young girls and women who are perhaps keener than most on knowing the calorific value of everything. I find the industry’s over-arching power and influence at all levels, both UK and EU parliament, deeply concerning and worrying. And for me I have to question how much alcohol is driving the obesity epidemic we have as a public health concern? If we tackled the issue of alcohol would we see obesity rates start to drop too? I suspect the answer to this would be yes ………
Edited to add 7/11/16 (Alcohol Policy UK):
More calories are consumed from alcohol than sugary drinks amongst adults, according to Euromonitor International research. As such ‘tackling Britain’s drink problem could be more important for health than targeting sugar consumption’ the Guardian reported. In the UK, adults are consuming more than 106 calories per head every day from alcoholic drinks, compared with 98 from sugar-sweetened drinks. Professor Sir Ian Gilmore said it was time to end the exemption of calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks above 1.2% ABV.
In an IAS guest blog on alcohol and obesity, Vanessa Hebditch says the current Government is reluctant to implement effective policy interventions for either, and that the ‘current reliance on voluntary action by the food and alcohol industry has not worked.’