Page last updated: September 20, 2018

Labelling interventions to reduce alcohol consumption


New research led by the University of Bristol has found that drinkers support clearer labelling of alcohol products, including the provision of unit, calorie and health information, which would address current gaps in public knowledge. Improving the formatting of existing industry standard labels to display unit and calorie information per serving, and as proportions of recommended low-risk guidelines, can enhance understanding about the health impact of alcohol consumption.

As part of research funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Alcohol Research UK, researchers in the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, part of Bristol's School of Experimental Psychology and MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (MRC IEU), explored how alcohol labels could improve understanding of alcohol and its risks.

The MRC project addressed three key questions: What information should be added to labels? Who is likely to attend to, and benefit from, this information? How can we present this information in different ways? Key findings from the MRC project include:

Calorie and unit content of alcohol products is poorly understood. While there is generally good knowledge of the links between alcohol and liver disease, drinkers are less sure about other health outcomes, such as increased risk of several cancers

Only half of weekly drinkers felt that reducing their alcohol consumption would improve their health despite many drinking above current recommended low risk levels

Only one-in-three drinkers who consume above the Chief Medical Officer's low risk guidelines reported confidence that they could reduce their alcohol consumption

Labelling should be implemented within a broader alcohol communication strategy, and other methods of delivery such as beer mats and marked glassware would maximise the reach and effectiveness of health messages

Legislative changes should make labelling mandatory and not self-regulated by the industry, but the effects of changes on small business such as local microbreweries need to be carefully considered.

The Alcohol Research UK project investigated more specifically how calorie, unit and health information should be presented to maximise effectiveness. Key findings from the Alcohol Research UK project include: There is strong support for calorie and unit information to be displayed on alcohol products Labels that present unit and calorie information in a clear and accessible way – displayed within the context of the Chief Medical Officer's lowrisk drinking guidelines – improves consumer understanding of the risks associated with drinking and could lead to positive changes in drinking behaviour

The authors state that current labels developed by the alcohol industry within the remit of the Responsibility Deal are low in effectiveness, which supports calls for introducing changes to legislation and making labels mandatory They argue that health warnings that present the negative impacts of drinking – particularly those highlighting the risk of cancer – could be an effective means of changing drinking behaviour, especially when set alongside unit information.

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