Calorie labels for alcohol

May 3rd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The fashion for large wine glasses has fueled a rise in the number of “invisible” calories people are inadvertently consuming through alcohol, the chair of the Royal Society for Public Health has warned. …

The European Union is considering whether to remove the exemption for alcohol and was due to report back in December, but has so far not ruled on the issue. A recent survey found that 80 per cent of the 2,117 adults questioned did not know the calorie content of common drinks, and most were completely unaware that alcohol contributed to the total calories that they consumed.

Most respondents were in favour of calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks.

The US Food and Drug Administration has mandated calorie labelling on alcoholic drinks from December 2015 in US restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets.

It seems strange to have calorie labelling on food and non alcoholic drinks, but not on alcoholic drinks.

I’m in favour of treating alcoholic drinks the same as non-alcoholic drinks, and mandating they should have calorie information.

For those interested the calorie counts for some common alcohol is:

  • half bottle of wine – 350 calories
  • Six pack of beer – 900 calories
  • hip flask of vodka – 820 calories
  • 4 RTDs – 920 calories

Calorie labelling

December 3rd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

I’m a big fan of places in the US where stores display calorie counts with their menus. I always look at them before deciding what to buy, and will often buy something different to my preference, once I know its calorie count.

However it seems I am a minority. Emily Oster at 538 writes:

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced sweeping rules that will require extensive calorie labeling nationwide. This includes on menus at chain restaurants, movie theaters, bakeries, coffee shops and vending machines. This change has been hailed by legislators and food-policy experts as a landmark in fighting obesity.

But will it work? The evidence I pulled together above isn’t conclusive. …

What does this mean for the success of the FDA labeling effort? It seems plausible that some subset of individuals at some restaurant locations will decrease their calorie intake. In fact, this seems almost certain. Every time I bring up calorie labeling with people I work with, someone will describe how the practice changed their behavior. One colleague realized that her habit of purchasing muffins rather than croissants to save calories was a waste — croissants have fewer calories than muffins.

On the other hand, if the idea is that these changes will drastically affect obesity in low-income populations eating at fast-food chains, the evidence doesn’t support this hope.

So it will be of benefit to some people like me, who are already motivated to think about the health impact of what I eat, but may have little impact on those most in need.

A supporter of calorie labeling will ask, “What is the downside?” Even if only a small fraction of people respond by decreasing their calories, there is no loss to those who did not change. So, why worry about it? This ignores the obvious cost to restaurants of calculating the calories in their products and of changing their menus. A grocery-store industry trade group estimated the cost of compliance with calorie-labeling rules could initially amount to $1 billion. The change also ignores the possible psychic costs to people.

Even if I am still going to eat a muffin after I learn that there are 520 calories in it, I may feel worse about doing so. If the actual impact of calorie labeling is to encourage only a few people to eat fewer calories but to make many more people feel worse about themselves, it seems less than obvious that it is a welfare-improving idea.

I’d like to see more stores in NZ do calorie labelling, but I don’t think there is a case for it to be mandatory – based on the evidence to date.

Calorie labels

August 21st, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The ODT editorial:

The decision by fast-food chain Burger King to display energy labels on menu boards on its restaurants throughout New Zealand has been heralded by dieticians as a step in the right direction – although they say much more can be done.

In reality, the move is only a small step towards addressing problems of obesity and related illnesses such as diabetes. But it is a significant one for a fast food chain to make, given the lucrative and highly competitive marketplace in which it operates.

The energy labels will display the total kilojoules per product and are designed, according to Burger King’s chief executive John Hunter, to help customers make informed choices.

It seems other fast food chains do not intend to do the same, saying they already have nutritional information on their websites – and many say they have developed healthier options for their customers.

I’d love it if others did follow suit, and cafes and restaurants also. In New York and DC almost every cafe has the calorie counts on the menus and blackboards, and it is great to be able to make a more informed decision when ordering.

Calorie labels on alcohol

November 17th, 2013 at 9:37 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Do you know how many calories you’re drinking? Drinks – both alcoholic and sugary – have been in the spotlight recently.

Alcohol has been because Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is looking into whether or not alcoholic beverages should have energy (kilojoules or calories) shown on their labels. Alcoholic drinks contribute about the same energy to an average Kiwi diet as sugar does – about 5 per cent.

Many health experts believe showing the energy (kilojoule or calorie) content on alcoholic drinks would have a moderating effect on how much we drink.

I have no doubt it will. I drink a lot less now, since being more aware of the calorie level of different drinks.

I can see this meeting a lot of resistance from the alcohol companies. They will argue the same old “personal responsibility” line that makers of other unhealthy foods do.

The difference is, of course, that at least with most of our foods we can actually see the nutrition content on the label, so we can make a (more or less) informed choice.

With alcohol, it’s completely up to us.

All for informed choices.

Calorie labels for alcohol

October 22nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labels revealing how costly a glass of wine or beer could be in terms of weight gain could soon be on the way, as the Government explores making them mandatory.

Alcohol manufacturers already label drinks with standard drink measurements and some voluntary health warnings.

Now, the Government is considering adding another requirement – labelling the number of kilojoules each drink contains.

I am 100% in favour of this. If we want people to make informed choices, then knowing the energy level of what we eat or drink is the best way to do that. Almost all other food and drink sold has calorie counts – it has been strange that alcohol does not.

Personally I think including such information would have a significant impact on how much some people drink. I know I drink far less now, knowing how much weight you put on with a few beers or wines.

Food Standards has commissioned a cost-benefit analysis on the concept, including looking at how energy labels might change buying and consumption.


Eric Crampton is less enthused, and has some sensible suggestions about how to reduce the burden of any regime:

  • Exempt small-batch products;
  • Exempt imports;
  • Require vendors selling exempt products to put up a notice somewhere saying “The alcohol in one standard drink provides 290 kilojoules.”

Nutritional information labels for alcohol

October 24th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Waikato Times reports:

Hamilton Labour MP Sue Moroney reckons if young women knew how many calories there were in alcoholic drinks they might think twice before getting drunk.

That’s why she wants nutritional information labels for booze added to the Alcohol Reform Bill.

I understand health groups have said that full nutritional information on alcohol may actually encourage people to drink more as it is basically zero fat etc. However I do think just having a calorie count of alcohol could be beneficial – and not just for young women!

However, her National counterpart, Tim Macindoe, said such amendments were not as important as restricting the supply and marketing of alcohol.

Perhaps, but it is not a case of choosing one or the other. Put it like this – is there a good argument against including calorie information on alcohol, considering almost all other food and drink has it?