Beware the 'Side' Effects of Alcopops, Says CSPI
Ads In Party Schools’ Papers Target High-Calorie Drinks
WASHINGTON—Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Silver, and Skyy Blue don’t actually contain any of the vodka or rum associated with their brand names but they do have a lot more calories than their target audience thinks, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In ads running in college newspapers at America’s top party schools, CSPI is alerting students that just one “alcopop” has more calories than a Krispy Kreme donut, and that drinking two alcopops is like downing the caloric equivalent of a sirloin steak. And according to new polling datareleased by CSPI, most Americans mistakenly think that alcopops have fewer calories than other high-cal foods.
“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 McDonald’s Quarter Pounder and a small fries.”
While a typical beer has 145 calories, a typical alcopop has more than 220. Bacardi Silver and Skyy Blue each have 235 calories. A five-alcopop night can mean 1,175 calories—almost as many calories than a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, medium French fries, and medium Coke, according to CSPI.
“Alcopop products disguise the taste of alcohol and lure young consumers from soda pop to beer and hard booze,” said Hacker, whose group has been critical of alcopop marketing and advertising in the past. “Alcopops are the last things college students should add to their diets, since college is a time when young people are vulnerable to dramatic weight gain. Drinking too many alcopops can mean the difference between the ‘freshman 15’ and the ‘freshman 40.’”
In December, CSPI petitioned the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to require alcoholic-beverage makers to list calorie contents and other information on a uniform Alcohol Facts label similar to the Nutrition Facts label on foods. Nine in 10 Americans support calorie labeling of alcoholic beverages, according to CSPI’s polling data. Although Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has announced an anti-obesity strategy which includes placing more emphasis on calories, the Administration has not yet supported listing calories on alcoholic beverages.
“Considering how much alcohol is consumed in this country, it’s ridiculous to let such a large source of Americans’ calories go undisclosed on labels,” Hacker said. “If Coke, Snapple, and milk have to list calories right on the label, why shouldn’t high-cal alcopops and other alcoholic beverages?”
One alcopop maker even goes so far as to market a “Sport” version that it claims is low in carbohydrates. Skyy Sport, a citrus-flavored alcopop with a “splash of cranberry” claims half the carbs of its rivals. But at 15 grams of carbohydrate per serving, Skyy Sport has more than twice as many carbohydrates than CSPI says a “low-carb” food should—and more than five times as many carbs as Michelob’s low-carb beer, Ultra.
“Skyy should call its new alcopop Skyy Couch instead of Skyy Sport, since at 160 calories a bottle, it lends itself more to sitting than sporting,” Hacker said. “It’s deceitful on several levels.”
CSPI placed its first round of ads in college newspapers at Princeton Review’s top “party schools,” including the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Indiana University at Bloomington, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and Washington and Lee University. The ad is also running in the Diamondback, the student newspaper of the University of Maryland.
“So before you find yourself asking, ‘Dude—Where’s my waist?’, get the facts,” the ad urges. The ads and other information about the calorie content of alcopops are available at cspinet.org/alcopops.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).