New CDC Study of Calories from Alcohol Supports Alcohol Beverage Label Reform

By Gary Zizka

Alcohol accounts for a large portion of the daily calories consumed by many American adults, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study concludes. The study found 19 percent of men and 6 percent of women take in more than 300 calories daily from alcoholic drinks.

“I think people may be aware that there are calories in alcoholic beverages,” said Dr. Nielsen, “but I don’t know if people actually look at a beer and realize that it’s the same amount of calories as a soda. Or that a five-ounce glass of wine is almost as much as a soda.”

A 12-ounce can of beer is 150 calories, about the same as a 12-ounce can of regular soda. A standard serving of spirits, which has the same alcohol content as the 12-ounce beer, is about 90 calories.

The new study may be a source of energy for a long-stalled effort to modernize alcohol beverage labels. In 2003, the National Consumers League joined with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America and 75 other public health and consumer organizations to submit a formal petition (at p. 22279) to the federal agency that regulates alcohol labels, now the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or the TTB.  The petition called for an “Alcohol Facts” label on alcoholic beverages that would provide information on calorie and alcohol content, comparable to the “Nutrition Facts” label on foods and the “Supplement Facts” label on dietary supplements.

Subsequently the agency issued an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” in April 2005 and received more than 18,000 comments, of which 96 percent supported giving consumers access to standardized and complete labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits labels.

The TTB’s most recent action occurred in 2007 when the agency proposed a mandatory “Serving Facts” panel on beer, wine and distilled spirits but notably ignored the most important information consumers need when consuming an alcoholic beverage – the amount of alcohol in a serving and the number of servings per container. This resulted in another barrage of letters from consumers and public health leaders, all calling for more complete information on the label. Since the close of the public comment period in February 2008, the TTB has not found the energy or political will to move forward with issuing final regulations.

According to the US Dietary Guidelines, people who drink alcohol should do so in moderation, defined as not more than one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men. Absent a final alcohol labeling rule from TTB, consumers have no meaningful way to understand how their drinking compares with those guidelines.