Wine, beer and spirits manufacturers may soon have to disclose calorie content and other nutritional information on bottles and cans. But for now, such labeling remains optional.
The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is part of the Treasury Department, proposed a labeling rule in 2007 that would require alcoholic beverage manufacturers to include calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein content on their labels, but it has yet to make a decision on whether to implement the rule. It last week that manufacturers could add this information if they wanted to.
"What's interesting to me is that the reason why beverage companies want it and consumers want it is totally different," said Sara Bleich, a health policy professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "It's an example of two groups having different goals while having a sweet spot that seems to work for both."
Low-calorie beer manufacturers are hoping the labels will target people trying to lose weight, believing that's a way to boost sales, she said, adding that studies find that middle-income white women were most likely to pay attention to the labels.
And consumers want more information to make educated choices.
Even though many consumers don't understand food labels, the 15 percent or 20 percent of those who do can significantly lower their weight, Bleich said. This ultimately could lower obesity and have a positive impact on health care costs.
"I think more calories come from alcohol than people think," said dietitian Jessica Bennett, who works at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
On average, alcohol alone contains 7 calories per gram, which means it's almost as caloric as fat, Bennett said. Fat contains 9 calories per gram. Protein, on the other hand, contains 4 calories per gram.
Still, Bennett said she wasn't sure how new labels would affect alcohol consumption.
Consumers are at the mercy of their bartenders and waiters when they drink at restaurants and bars, because the bartender or waiter can give them a larger serving size, she said. Mixers, such as soda and juices can add calories, too.
"I definitely think it's going to be interesting to see how it goes," Bennett said.
What might you find on alcohol nutrition labels? We used theand theto find out.