A leading health official has said that calorie labelling on alcohol should be introduced urgently to help stem soaring levels of obesity.

Consumers were unaware of how many calories were in wine, beer and cocktails, which was causing them to drink more than they might otherwise, said the Royal Society of Public Health’s Shirley Cramer.

“Overconsumption of alcohol is one of the biggest risk factors in non-communicable diseases – cardiovascular, type 2 diabetes and liver disease – and it also adds to obesity,” Cramer told a seminar on food labelling policy organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum in London yesterday (July 9), according to M&C’s sister title Food Manufacture.

Cramer claimed that 10% of calorie intake in the UK population came from alcohol, with one in four people drinking too much.

Cramer pointed out that a large 250 millilitre glass of white wine included 180 calories, equivalent to a slice of pizza, which would require a two mile walk to burn off.

Currently, alcoholic beverages containing over 1.2% of alcohol by volume are exempt from having to display nutritional or energy information on labels, Cramer noted.

“So there is a massive imbalance here between food and alcohol and we think things have to be done about this. We need to have much more equal information for the public about what’s in their alcohol,” she said.

Steve Livens, policy manager for product assurance and supply chain with the British Beer and Pub Association, said the brewing industry supported the introduction of nutritional information. But he suggested that, because of space restrictions on bottles, etc, this should comprise a mixture of on-package and on-line labelling.

“We have voluntary declarations for nutrition information on our alcoholic beverages,” said Livens. “Many brewers have already provided this information in one form or another. It may not be the easiest thing to access in the world, either on-pack labelling or more primarily through company and brand web sites, but there is already a degree of this information already about.”

However, Livens suggested things were likely to change come December 2016 when nutritional information labelling on food and drink becomes mandatory under the Food Information for Consumers (FIC) regulation.

“The FIC allows us, as it does anybody who is voluntarily providing nutritional information, to declare energy as a sole declaration of nutritional content, which does make it a little easier for us to get into some of these things,” said Livens. But there was still uncertainty about what mandatory changes might be introduced by the European Commission (EC), he added.