Drinking Alcohol, Weight & Obesity

Alcohol contains calories, but drinking alcohol doesn't lead to weight gain, according to extensive medical research, and many studies report a reduction in weight for drinkers, especially women.

The reason that alcohol doesn't increase weight is unclear, but research suggests that alcohol energy is not efficiently used. Alcohol also appears to increase metabolic rate significantly, thus causing more calories to be burned rather than stored in the body as fat. Other research has found consumption of sugar to decrease as consumption of alcohol increases.

Whatever the reasons, the consumption of alcohol is not associated with weight gain and is often associated with weight loss. The medical evidence of this is based on a large number of studies of thousands of people around the world. Some of these studies are very large; one involved nearly 80,000 and another included 140,000 subjects.

Alcohol contains no fat, no cholesterol, and no sodium. Of course, the nutritional value of different alcohol beverages varies.

The moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better health and longer life than is either abstaining from alcohol or abusing it. However, the health benefits of drinking are associated with moderation. On the other hand, heavy drinking is associated with health problems. The key is moderation.

Drinking in moderation has been described by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a man consuming four drinks on any day and an average of 14 drinks per week. For women, it is consuming three drinks in any one day and an average of seven drinks per week.

Standard Drinks graphically illustrates information on the alcohol equivalence of standard drinks of beer, wine, and distilled spirits or liquor.

A standard alcoholic drink is:

Standard drinks contain equivalent amounts of alcohol. To a breathalyzer, they're all the same.

There is no evidence that any particular form of alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, or distilled spirits) confers greater health benefits than any other.

Drinking Alcohol and Risk of Obesity

People who consume one or two drinks if alcohol regularly are less likely to be obese than either people who don't drink or people who drink heavily. The study of 8,236 non-smokers found that current drinkers had a 27% lower chance of being obese than abstainers. On the other hand, heavy drinkers (those who consumed four of more drinks per day) were 46% more likely to obese than non-drinkers. read more

Drinking Alcohol Reduces Weight Gain

Women who daily consumed one to two drinks of alcoholic beverage were at least 30% less likely to gain weight than non-drinkers, found a study of over 19,000 women for a period of nearly 13 years. read more

Drinking Alcohol and Weight, Obesity and BMI

Research involving over 37,000 non-smokers found that men and women who consumed one alcoholic drink per day, and with the greatest frequency (three to seven days per week), had the lowest body mass index (BMI). That is, they were the most lean. read more

Alcohol, Diabetes, Obesity and Heart Disease in Women

Researchers have found that consuming alcohol after a meal increased the number of calories burned after both high and low carbohydrate meals. This may help explain the finding of these researchers and many others that moderate drinkers have less body fat than abstainers. read more

Drinkers Less Likely to Gain Weight than Abstainers

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined the relation between alcohol intake and body weight in 7,230 U.S. adults 25–74 years of age who were weighed and then reweighed 10 years later. Analyses were adjusted for age, race, height, education, health status, smoking status, diet status, physical activity, and total nonalcoholic caloric intake. Both men and women who drank alcohol were significantly less likely to gain weight than were nondrinkers.1

Drinkers Experienced More Weight Reduction

A study followed 79,236 healthy adults in the U.S. for a ten-year period. Over that time, women's body mass index declined significantly with drinking alcohol regularly. Among men the weight reduction was less pronounced.2 Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. It is the most widely used diagnostic tool to identify weight problems within a population.

Drinkers Less Likely to Gain Weight

Conducted was a prospective study of 19,220 women in the U.S. aged 38.9 years or older who were free of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes mellitus and had a baseline body mass index (BMI) in the normal range. The researchers found that "Compared with nondrinkers, initially normal-weight women who consumed a light to moderate amount of alcohol gained less weight and had a lower risk of becoming overweight and/or obese during 12.9 years of follow-up." The same was found among subgroups of age, smoking status, physical activity and baseline BMI.3

Frequent Drinkers Less Likely to Gain Waist Circumference

A prospective study of 43,543 men and women for an average period of five years examined alcohol consumption and changes in weight circumference. Researchers found that drinking frequency was inversely associated with major waist gain; the more frequently men and women drank alcohol, the less likely they were to gain circumference in their waists.4

Alcohol Quantity and Frequency had Opposite Effects

Researchers at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) analyzed data from 45,896 adult never smokers who were current alcohol drinkers. They found that alcohol quantity and frequency had opposite associations with body mass index (BMI). As quantity increased from one drink per drinking day to four or more drinks per drinking day BMI increased. However, as the frequency of drinking alcohol increased (as the number of days per year that drinking alcohol occurred), BMI significantly decreased. In analyses of frequency trends within quantity categories, BMI declines were more pronounced in women than in men, but all were significant. This is consistent with other research demonstrating the importance of drinking frequently to obtain the greatest health benefits from alcohol.5

Moderate Alcohol Consumption Best for Having Normal Weight

A total of 24,604 randomly selected men and women in Finland (age 25–64) participated in four cross-sectional surveys conducted at five-year intervals. The researchers concluded that "A physically active lifestyle with abstention from smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, and consumption of healthy foods maximizes the chances of having a normal weight."6

Two Drinks with Dinner = No Weight Gain

In an experimental study fourteen male subjects (mean age = 32.1 years) participated in a 12-week, free-living, crossover trial in which they either drank red wine (270 ml; 13% v/v ethanol) daily for 6 weeks and then abstained for the next 6 weeks or vice-versa. The researchers found that whether wine was consumed or not, there was no significant difference in body weight, body fat percentage, skinfold thickness, resting metabolic rate, or caloric intake. They concluded that "In free-living subjects over a 6-week period, the addition of two glasses of red wine to the evening meal does not appear to influence any measured variable which may adversely affect body weight or promote the development of obesity during this time period."7

Drinkers not Heavier than Abstainers

Analysis of data from the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES I) revealed that "Among drinkers, the intakes of nonalcoholic calories decreased as alcohol intakes increased, and it was estimated that between 15 and 41% of the alcoholic calories replaced nonalcoholic calories. Despite their higher caloric intakes, drinkers were not more obese than nondrinkers, suggesting that alcoholic calories may be less efficiently utilized than nonalcoholic calories, or may interfere with utilization of nonalcoholic calories. The most salient difference in nutrient intake between drinkers and nondrinkers was the substantially lower carbohydrate intake of drinkers."8

Same Body Weight by Drinkers and Abstainers

The cigarette smoking habits, alcohol consumption and body weight of 5,757 male and female smokers age 35-60 in Finland were assessed. Researchers found that "There were no significant differences in BMI between alcohol drinkers and abstainers in either men or women."9

Alcohol Drinkers Leaner than Abstainers

An analysis of the dietary subsample of the 1992 Finmonica cardiovascular risk factor survey in Finland, consisting of 1,848 men and women age 25-64, was conducted. It found that caloric intake from drinking alcohol largely substituted that from other foods and that "Alcohol consumers were leaner than abstainers."10

This website makes no suggestions or recommendations about drinking alcohol, weight, or any other health matter and none should be inferred.

Readings

  • Arif, A.A., and Rohrer, J.E. Patterns of alcohol drinking and its association with obesity: data from the third national health and nutrition examination survey, 1988-1994. BMC Public Health, 2005, 5(5), 126.
  • Berkey, C.S., et al. Weight gain in older adolescent females: the internet, sleep, coffee, and alcohol. Journal of Pediatrics, 2008, 153(5), 639.
  • Clevidence, B.A., et al. Lean and heavy women may not use energy from alcohol with equal efficiency. Journal of Nutrition, 1995, 125(10), 2536-2540.
  • Gruchow, H.W., et al. Alcohol consumption, nutrient intake and relative body weight among U.S. adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1985, 42, 289-295.
  • Hellerstedt, W. L., et al. The association between alcohol intake and adiposity in the general population. American Journal of Epidemiology, 1990, 132(4), 594-611.
  • Istvan, J., et al. The relationship between patterns of alcohol consumption and body weight, International Journal of Epidemiology, 1995, 24(3), 543-546.
  • Jequier, E. Alcohol intake and body weight: a paradox. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999, 69, 173-174.
  • Kahn, H. S., et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults' 10-year change in body mass index and the likelihood of gain at the waist. American Journal of Public Health, 1997, 87(5), 747-754.
  • Landis, W. E. M.. Alcohol and energy intake. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1995, 62(suppl.), 11015-11068.
  • Mannisto, E., et al. Reported alcohol intake, diet and body mass index in male smokers. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1996, 50, 239-245.
  • Prentice, A. M. Alcohol and obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 1995, 19(Suppl. 5), S44-S50.
  • Sung, K.C., et al. Relationship among alcohol, body weight, and cardiovascular risk factors in 27,030 Korean men. Diabetes Care, 2007, 30(10), 2690-2694.
  • Wang, L, et al. Alcohol consumption, weight gain, and risk of becoming overweight in middle-aged and older women. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010, 170(5), 453-461.

References

  • 1. Liu, S., et al. A Prospective Study of Alcohol Intake and Change in Body Weight among US Adults. American Journal of Epidemiology, 1994, 140(10), 912-920.
  • 2. Kahn, H., et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults' 10-year change in body mass index and likelihood of gain at the waist. Jornal of Public Health, 1997, 87(5), 747-754.
  • 3. Wang, L., et al. Alcohol Consumption, Weight Gain, and Risk of Becoming Overweight in Middle-aged and Older Women. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010, 170(5), 453-461.
  • 4. Tolstrup, J.S., et al. Alcohol drinking frequency in relation to subsequent changes in waist circumference. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008, 87(4). 957-963. 
  • 5. Breslow, R.A. and Smothers, B.A. Drinking patterns and body mass index in never smokers: National Health Interview Survey, 1997–2001. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2005, 161(4), 368-376.
  • 6. Lahti-Koski, M., et al. Associations of body mass index and obesity with physical activity, food choices, alcohol intake, and smoking in the 1982–1997 FINRISK Studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002, 75(5), 809-817.
  • 7. Cordain, L., et al. Influence of moderate daily wine consumption on body weight regulation and metabolism in healthy free-living males. Journal of the American College of Nursing, 1997, 16(2), 134-139. 
  • 8. Gruchow, H.W., et al. Alcohol consumption, nutrient intake and relative body weight among US adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1985, 42, 289-295.
  • 9. Istvan, J., et al. The Relationship Between Patterns of Alcohol Consumption and Body Weight. International Journal of Epidemiology, 1995, 24(3), 543-546.
  • 10. Mannisto, S., et al. Alcohol beverage drinking, diet and body mass index in a cross-sectional survey. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1997, 51(5), 326-332.

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