Alcohol and Obesity

When you walk into a pub or bar you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to be able to identify, with a reasonable degree of certainty, who among the patrons is a regular heavy drinker. Their girth is likely to give them away and is not called a “beer belly” without good reason.

The actual relationship between alcohol consumption and obesity, however, is complex and not fully understood. Factors like quantity, frequency of drinking, family history and environment are all parts of the equation. Research into the question has produced some interesting results.

Calorie Content

Alcoholic drinks, of course, contain a good number of calories. Did you know, for example that:

  • A standard glass of wine has 126 calories, which is equivalent to one miniature chocolate bar?
  • A pint of beer contains 170 calories, the same as a packet of salted crisps?
  • A standard bottle of alcopop has 237 calories, equivalent to three teacakes?

Also, when you drink you are very likely to add to your calorie intake by snacking on foods like crisps and peanuts at the same time. And, if you wake up with a hangover the next day, you might well have a large breakfast to counter the effects of a hangover. The alcohol and the high calorie snacks will combine to cause you to put on weight.

New Research

The relationship between alcohol consumption and obesity, however, is not as simple as saying that drinking will cause you to gain weight. Recent studies in the United States and Finland carried out among drinkers who do not smoke (non-smokers were surveyed to ensure the results were not tainted) found that moderate drinkers who consumed one or two drinks daily were likely to have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) than people who drank large quantities of alcohol, say just once a week – binge drinkers were most at risk.

The research showed that:

  • Men who have one or two drinks regularly are 27% less likely to be obese than non-drinkers.
  • Heavy drinkers (four or more drinks a day) are 46% more likely to be obese than non-drinkers.
  • Women who have one or two drinks a day are less likely to gain weight than those who do not drink.

The reason why moderate drinkers do not gain weight is not clear, but some hypothesise that the body does not use the energy from alcohol efficiently and the increased metabolic rate associated with alcohol causes the body to burn calories faster. This, combined with the possibility that they find comfort in alcohol and use it as a substitute for food, is perhaps why alcoholics tend not to be obese and instead are quite often under-nourished.

The conclusion is that a glass of wine or two with a meal is unlikely to lead to an increase in your waistline or obesity. However, drinking more than is recommended in NHS guidelines and binge drinking in particular will increase your risk of obesity, while alcoholics who shun food in favour of drink risk malnutrition. The problem is not so much about having a drink but more about drinking responsibly and in moderation. Irresponsible drinking often goes hand in hand with unhealthy eating habits and an unhealthy lifestyle, resulting in weight problems. If you think that you or someone close to you has a problem with alcohol – alcoholism, regular heavy drinking or binge drinking – then you should seek professional help before it leads to other health problems, like obesity.

Life Works provides first rate support and guidance in the treatment of alcohol addiction. To discuss how we can help you, please call 0808 231 9328 or click here to complete a short enquiry form.


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