As early as 2003, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington DC-based non-profit watchdog and consumer advocacy group focusing on nutritional education and awareness, has alerted young adults that one alcopop has more calories than a sugar-coated donut, and that drinking two alcopops is like downing the caloric equivalent of a thick sirloin steak.
Alcopops, also known as “alcomix”, “RTDs” (ready to drink), or “FABs” (flavored alcoholic beverages), are sweet, sugary alcoholic beverages that look and taste like lemonade, cola, punch, and tea. Alcopops contain 5-6% of alcohol by volume consisting of distilled spirits that is mixed with nonalcoholic beverages or flavoring or coloring materials. Advertisements for these “starter” drinks make them appealing to young drinkers, particularly girls and young women who do not like the taste of traditional alcohol products.
CSPI released findings of a study conducted by the Global strategy Group (GSG), a Washington DC and New York-based strategic polling firm. The study was a census-balanced, nationally representative telephone project, which covered 600 Americans ages 18 years and older.
The major conclusions of the study were the following:
1. A large majority of Americans pays attention to the caloric content of their food and beverage choices, and most Americans think that the calorie content of their diet is important. Nearly all Americans think it’s important to avoid becoming overweight or obese.
2. Americans know about alcopops and many say they’ve tried them. Awareness and usage of these products is much higher among older teens and younger adults than among others.
3. Americans don’t know that alcopops are high in calories. Approximately 2 in 3 Americans mistakenly believe that beer and common high-calorie foods have about the same or more calories than the average alcopop (230-275 calories). Most think that alcopops have fewer calories than popular high-calorie foods, such as a sugar-coated donut.
To add, four in ten and half of 18 to 29-year-olds (47%) mistakenly think that calorie-rich alcopops have about the same or fewer calories than a regular beer and about half of young people who drink them also mistakenly share that belief. A large majority of Americans also believe that producers advertise alcopops in such a way as to obscure their high calorie content.
4. Many Americans, including younger people who represent the key target demographic for alcopops, say drinkers would modify their behavior and drink less alcohol in total if they were aware of the high calorie content of alcopops.
The study shows that Americans who consume alcopops are likely to modify their Drinking behavior if they were made aware that these drinks contain between 230 and 275 calories.
In fact, more than half of Americans (56%) – 68% of women and 44% of men – say people would switch to beer or light beer.
5. Americans don’t know whether popular alcopops are more like beer, wine, or liquor. Most Americans, including most drinkers and alcopop consumers, either don’t know or think alcopops are something they’re not.
“Alcopop makers would like young people to think that these drinks are made with rum or vodka and are less caloric than beer,” said George A. Hacker, director of alcohol policies at CSPI. “The reality is that these drinks are just cheap alcohol, artificial flavorings, and lots of added sugar, giving them more calories than beer. Three alcopops have more calories than a ¼ pound burger and a small fries.”
6. Younger adults and other Americans strongly support requiring producers to provide calorie content and other consumer information, such as alcohol content, serving size, and ingredients on the labels of all alcoholic beverages. They also support posting this information at bars and restaurants where alcohol is not served in its original container.
In fact, more than 3 in 5 drinkers (61%), and especially young women (75%) think that consumers would use alcohol content and calorie information to make better choices about their drinking.