Public health experts have consistently argued that calorie counts should be mandatory on all alcoholic beverage labels. The common question is – why are calories from alcoholic beverages treated any differently than those from food? Most drinks that contain more than 1.2% alcohol by volume are currently exempt from providing caloric data. According to Fiona Sim, Chair of the Royal Society for Public Health and recent author in The BMJ; an estimated 10% of daily calories come from alcohol among adults who drink. However, a recent study found that 80% of 2,117 adults questioned in a survey were not familiar with the caloric density of common alcoholic beverages they consume. Of even greater interest, most were completely unaware that alcohol contributed to their daily caloric intake at all. Sim detailed an example from the survey, “Most women… do not realize that two large glasses of wine, containing 370 calories, comprise almost a fifth of their daily recommended energy intake...” This example clarifies why excess alcohol consumption can be associated with obesity and metabolic disease.
Some alcoholic beverage manufacturers have already begun to introduce nutritional labelling, which suggests there is no commercial disadvantage in such a move, says Sim. However, she cautions that information provided to consumers must be “accurate, prominent, and meaningful.” It should be noted that the US Food and Drug Administration has mandated calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks from December 2015 on - in US restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets. Even in these instances, consumers may not get an exact calorie count as information can be presented in ranges for beer and wine, rather than for each specific offering. Health experts are currently asking for a step above this; namely calorie counts on every bottle so that consumers are informed no matter where they purchase and drink. Currently, only light beers that are advertised as “low carb” are required to show this information, and some websites provide calorie counts for more health-conscious consumers to seek out. Consumer advocate groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have tried a number of times since the 1970s to persuade the federal government to require comprehensive labels on all alcoholic products. They have been repeatedly thwarted by alcohol manufacturers, who have made a number of different arguments as to why it would be a bad idea. One such argument was that putting nutrition facts on all bottles of alcohol would make consumers erroneously think that alcohol was nutritious. So, until nutrition facts are required, consumers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the average caloric density of their favorite beverages to at least get an estimate of what they are putting into their body. The following figure provides examples to help put the caloric content of popular alcoholic beverages in perspective.