Health officials and charities are urging the UK and Scottish governments to make changes to poor labelling of alcohol products, in a move towards giving consumers more choice through information when they buy alcoholic beverages

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) said that where other food products display more information such as ingredients, nutritional values and health risks, alcohol drinks show only alcohol volume, bottle size and allergens within their labelling.

AHA, whose members include medical royal colleges and charities, said current regulations mean there is more information on a bottle of milk than on a bottle of wine.

The organisation, which campaigns for policies to reduce alcohol-related harm, examined labels on 424 alcohol products in shops across the UK. It found that labels on more than 70% of the bottles examined did not carry information on safe drinking limits, nearly a quarter (24%) of labels surveyed contained misleading, out-of-date health information, such as the old UK drinking guidelines or those from other countries, and some displayed health information that was illegible, with the average height of text displaying information about alcohol units measuring 2mm – well under the 3.5mm required to be easily readable.

The findings were published in a report from the AHA, called “Drinking in the Dark”, it said a voluntary approach adopted between the UK government and the drinks industry in 2016 had resulted in poor and inconsistent practice in drinks labelling.

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, AHA chairman, said that alcohol labelling was, ‘woefully inadequate’ and not fit for purpose.

He said: “It is time that health labelling is required for all products. The public must be granted the power to make informed decisions about their health by having access to prominent health warnings and information on ingredients, nutrition and alcohol content at the point of purchase.

“The industry’s reluctance to include this information on their products suggests profits are being put ahead of people’s health.”

The current UK guidelines advise limiting alcohol intake to no more than 14 units a week for women and men. This is equivalent to drinking no more than 6 pints of average-strength beer or 7 medium-sized glasses of wine. 

For those that do drink as much as 14 units per week, it recommends spreading that amount over three or more days. One to two heavy drinking episodes a week can increase the risk of long-term illness and injury.

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