Alcohol responsible for 'nearly 10 per cent' of energy intake in adults

The EU must rethink its alcohol labelling legislation to help consumers to make 'healthy choices', says Glenis Willmott.

By Glenis Willmott

26 Sep 2014

Many people try to watch what they eat, count their calories, and try to cut down on excess sugar and fat. What many people forget to look at is the amount of alcohol they drink; and the extra energy intake can add up surprisingly quickly.

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.

"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.

On 10 September, I hosted an event in the European parliament organised by the European alcohol policy alliance, with expert speakers from the European consumer organisation and the world health organisation. There was a clear consensus from everyone on the panel that the commission must make changes to alcohol labelling legislation.

I am leading for the parliament on a resolution on alcohol, in which I will again call on the commission to renew the EU alcohol strategy, which ended in 2012. I want the resolution to also address other pressing issues in alcohol policy, including the question of minimum pricing, which I think needs to be addressed at an EU level from a health perspective, rather than solely focusing on trade. Of course, I will also seek to ensure that the resolution reiterates my calls for adequate nutritional labelling on alcohol.

Consumers have a right to know what is in the products they buy, and it is our duty as legislators to make sure they do. If we are serious about tackling obesity and the range of problems it causes, we have to give consumers who want to make healthy choices the information they need.

Read the most recent articles written by Glenis Willmott - Alcohol labelling should be about what's best for consumers - not industry