Responding to a call from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) for calories to be displayed alongside units on pump clips, beer matts and menus, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) said there was a 'lack of evidence' on what impact such labelling might have.
“The link between calories and consumption is far from clear cut when it comes to eating out,” said ALMR chief executive, Kate Nicholls.
"Calorie labelling may impact on behaviour when food is viewed as fuel, but there is already evidence that this is not the case when people are celebrating or on an evening out.
“Customers will often save calories in some areas in order to indulge in others. What we do not want is a scenario whereby customers, particularly young women, are forgoing food in order to save calories for drinking or turning to higher strength products such as spirits in order to reduce calorie intake."
Highlighting the efforts already made by the industry to promote responsible drinking, Nicholls called for a more ‘holistic’ approach to the problem.
"Many of the ALMR’s members are already actively involved in calorie reduction initiatives to tackle obesity as well as alcohol pledges to improve public awareness of alcohol units and alcohol strength," she said.
“The sector has undertaken a billion-unit pledge to reduce intake and strength of house wine and to promote access to soft drinks. These are all more effective measure to educate consumers about overall alcohol consumption rather than a message related just to calories."
The RSPH called for calorie labelling on alcohol packaging and at point-of-sale in its latest position paper, published on Friday.
The organisation said new research suggested consumers are still underestimating the number of calories in alcohol, with over 80 per cent of people unaware of the calories in a large glass of wine and 60 per cent unaware of the calories in a pint of larger.
“Calorie labelling has been successfully introduced for a wide range of food products and there is now a clear public appetite for this information to be extended to alcohol to help individuals make informed choices,” said RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer.
“With two in three adults overweight or obese and given that adults who drink get approximately 10 percent of their calories from alcohol, this move could make a major difference to waistlines of the nation.”
The RSPH admitted further research was needed to support the theory that calorie labelling of alcohol would affect drinking behaviour, but said its own ‘small scale’ experiment at a central London pub suggested people consumed on average 400 less calories from alcohol when labels were displayed.
The EU is due to decide on whether to extend to nutrition labelling, including calories, to alcoholic drinks by the end of this year, and the RSPH urged the newly appointed EU Health Commissioner to back the move.
“We know that the EU Commission is due to publish its findings on extending nutritional labelling to alcohol in December and would be extremely surprised if they didn’t back this measure to improve the public’s health,” said Shirley.