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Reformulate sugary alcohol drinks

Popular ‘ready to drink’ pre-mixed spirits sold in major UK retailers are unnecessarily high in hidden sugar and calories and should be forced to reformulate immediately to soft drink industry levy (SDIL) standards, say Action on Sugar.

The call comes as a new product survey (the first of its kind) launched at Queen Mary University of London to mark Sugar Awareness Week (20 – 26 January 2020).

Researchers surveyed a total of 202 ‘ready to drink’ alcoholic beverages sold in-store and online. Out of the 154 products collected in-store, nutrition information on pack was 'shockingly low', making it difficult for consumers to know exactly what they are drinking:

  • Only 63 products (41%) in-store had some form of nutrition information on pack
  • Only 14 products (9%) had ‘sugar’ information on pack
  • Nine out of ten pre-mixed spirits don’t have on-pack sugar information – certain beverages also contain as many as nine teaspoons of sugar in just 250ml

Due to the lack of information provided on pack (in-store), Action on Sugar commissioned independent laboratory analysis of 21 products (in addition to the information available on pack and on drink manufacturer’s websites). You can read the Action on Sugar survey report in full on their website.

The group of experts warn that alcoholic drinks are contributing to obesity, type 2 diabetes, various cancers, liver damage and tooth decay as drinkers are unknowingly consuming large amounts of sugar. The soft drinks industry levy was successful in reducing sugar in soft drinks like lemonade, yet drinks that contain alcohol, such as a vodka and lemonade, are exempt, which critics say is 'absurd'. Action on Sugar is now urging the government to prove it really is committed to prevention and reducing inequalities by stepping in and taking control of the situation and preventing alcohol producers 'from exploiting vulnerable young adults'.

Responding to Action on Sugar's latest research, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Alcohol Health Alliance UK chair, said:

'Consumers have the right to know exactly what they are drinking. This latest research demonstrates – once again – that the current system of the self-regulation of alcohol labelling isn’t working and the industry is not taking its responsibilities seriously. Shoppers who buy alcohol get less information about what’s in their drink than those who buy milk or orange juice; this is simply outrageous.

'We urge the government to introduce mandatory labelling on alcohol products in order to give all of us easy access to the information needed to make healthier choices.'

Action on Sugar is calling on the new government to ensure that all alcoholic drinks are included in vital public health polices to reduce obesity and ill health and tackle this huge missed opportunity.

Registered Nutritionist, Holly Gabriel at Action on Sugar, says: 'This is the first time a survey of this kind has been conducted and the results highlight an immediate need for alcoholic drinks to be included in vital public health policies.

'Customers should be able to purchase better options and reformulating these drinks with less sugar, calories and alcohol is one way to achieve this. Our survey clearly shows that similar drinks can be made with less sugar and calories, yet drink manufacturers are failing to take the appropriate action. Urgent attention is required from the government to ensure that gaps in the law do not contribute to the rise in obesity and related health conditions, as well as alcohol harm.'