Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

What Am I Drinking? the Effects of Serving Facts Information on Alcohol Beverage Containers

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

What Am I Drinking? the Effects of Serving Facts Information on Alcohol Beverage Containers

Article excerpt

Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with numerous adverse health conditions and is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Unlike manufacturers of most other packaged food and beverage products, alcohol beverage producers are not required to disclose product nutrition information. This situation may soon change. On July 31, 2007, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau proposed a rule that will require a Serving Facts panel containing a statement that includes levels of calories, carbohydrates, fat, and alcohol content on all alcohol beverage containers. The primary purpose of this research was to test predictions and provide insight regarding consumers' potential responses to the provision of Serving Facts information on alcohol beverage labels. Implications of the results for public policy makers and consumer welfare are offered.

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Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States (Mokdad et al. 2004). The 29 percent of men and 17 percent of women who exceed the recommended weekly limit (fourteen drinks for men and seven drinks for women) face a greater risk of both short- and long-term health-related problems such as obesity, liver disease, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes than individuals who do not drink in excess (Edwards 2004). Given that obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death, the link between excessive alcohol consumption and obesity is disconcerting. While light-to-moderate alcohol consumption may have a beneficial effect in reducing weight, excessive consumption has the opposite effect (Arif and Rohrer 2005).

Unlike most packaged food products, alcohol beverage containers are not required to present a statement of alcohol, calorie, or nutrient content. Some argue that without this "Serving Facts" information, consumers have no idea how many calories, ounces of alcohol, or carbohydrate grams they consume when enjoying their favorite alcohol beverage (CSPI 2003; Edwards 2004). Excessive consumption and binge drinking are associated with many negative consequences (Wechsler et al. 1994, 1995), and research has shown that most consumers do not know that a 12 oz beer, a 5 oz glass of wine, and 1.5 oz of distilled liquor/spirits (e.g., rum, vodka, bourbon) all contain approximately equal amounts of alcohol. In addition, in a nationally representative survey of 550 Americans aged eighteen years or older, only 10 percent of the respondents correctly identified the approximate number of calories in a regular beer (CSPI 2003).

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms first considered whether producers should be required to provide calorie and nutrient information on alcohol beverage containers in the early 1990s. In 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms concluded that there was insufficient consumer interest to require the provision of Serving Facts information on alcohol beverage containers. A decade later, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the National Consumers League, and sixty-seven other organizations petitioned the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to require a Serving Facts panel on alcohol beverage containers that provides information about the calorie, nutrient, and, in some cases, alcohol content of the beverage (Federal Register 2007, 41860). Specifically, petitioners requested mandatory label information on alcohol beverages that would be regulated by the TTB and include specific information in standardized formats similar to the Nutrition Facts panel found on food and nonalcohol beverages. In April 2005, the TTB issued a request for public comment on a proposed regulation to require more informative labeling, and it received more than nineteen thousand comments. The purpose of the TTB's proposed regulation is to ensure that alcohol beverage labels provide consumers with adequate information about the product. …

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