Bitter sweet

Brookeclive.jpgClive Brooke on why the government must do more to address the hidden sugar content in alcoholic drinks

The World Health Organisation recently drafted guidelines that suggest adults should aim to bring their sugar intake down to 5% of their daily calorie intake. However, many people are not aware of how much sugar there is in many items of food and drink. 

A good example of this is the levels of sugar in alcohol, and tomorrow in the Lords I will press the government on how many drinks companies and retailers have signed up to display the calorie content of their drinks.

Earlier this month, I wrote to the Chief Executive of Sainsbury’s, Justin King to congratulate the company on taking this step with their own brand wine. It’s a really positive move that shows progress can be made, but nevertheless much more still needs to be done. A customer survey led to the introduction of a calorie count on Sainsbury’s wine; and I’m sure that many consumers of other kinds of alcohol, beer and lager for example, would want similar information made available.

This is all the more important given the rise in the number of very high sugar drinks like lemonade or dandelion and burdock, with added alcohol; and the growing popularity of alcoholic ginger beer. Even Hooch is now back on sale, having been withdrawn from the market in 2003 following a public outcry. I know industry representatives have stated that consumers prefer sweeter tasting drinks and that “this is a burgeoning drinks trend”. But shoppers should know how much sugar is contained in what they drink.

Last month I asked Health Minister Earl Howe whether the government had used any of the 130 meetings with the drinks industry since 2010 to raise this issue. While he emphasized that many drinks retailers had signed up to the Responsibilty Deal, it was not at all clear that this contained anything on calorie content. Tomorrow, he has a chance to remedy that.

Obesity is a severe problem, and only likely to get worse unless we begin to take action. The Foresight report from 2007 suggested half of the UK population could be obese by 2050 – something that would cost £50bn a year. A recent National Obesity Forum report went further, saying that “upward trends in obesity levels suggest these conclusions could be optimistic and could be exceeded by 2050.” 

A number of questions need to be addressed around hidden sugar content in a whole range of products, and it is a positive step that some supermarkets are looking to get more information onto their products. The drinks industry should take note and give their customers the facts. 

Lord Clive Brooke of Alverthorpe is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords

Published 12th March 2014

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