Obesity is a problem not just in America, but in most developed countries. Here’s a scary statistic: More than 300 million adults across the world are obese. And that number is, no doubt, going to keep increasing.
How can it not, when we are tempted every day with deliciously decadent food choices like bacon cheeseburgers, onion rings, cheesecake, and hot fudge sundaes when we eat out? And when we walk through the grocery store, we have potato chips, ice cream, soda and donuts staring right back at us.
While it’s obvious that these foods do no favors for our waistlines, one factor that many people may not consider is this: Does alcohol make you fat? Does having a glass of wine or beer with dinner, or a margarita at happy hour contribute to weight gain and obesity?
Researchers in Portugal aimed to find out exactly what effect alcohol has on obesity. Specifically, they wanted to determine the association of current and lifetime alcohol consumption with overall and central obesity risk. They defined overall obesity as body mass index (BMI) greater than 30. Central obesity referred to belly fat — a waist circumference greater than 88 cm, or 34.5 inches, in women, and greater than 102 cm, or just over 40 inches, in men.
The study involved 2,366 participants who were involved in the analysis of association between current alcohol consumption and overall obesity, and 2,212 for lifetime consumption. A total of 2,377 participants were included in the analysis of association between current alcohol consumption and central obesity, and 2,219 for lifetime consumption.
Trained interviewers collected data about each of the participants’ social and behavioral characteristics such as diet, smoking, and exercise, along with alcohol consumption.
In terms of current alcohol consumption, nine frequency categories were offered: never or less than once a month; one to three times a month; once a week; two to four times a week; five to six times a week; once a day; two to three times a day; four to five times a day; and six or more times a day.
For lifetime consumption, frequency was determined through interviews, in which participants were asked about frequency and quantity.
Results showed that men, in particular, who consumed more than 60 grams (or 1/4 cup) of alcohol a day were more frequently obese compared to nondrinkers. For lifetime consumption, the probability for central obesity was higher in women consuming at least 15.1 grams (a mere 1/2 ounce) per day. Similar results were seen in men, with the stronger link being observed between lifetime alcohol consumption and central obesity. In general, even moderate amounts of alcohol were associated with an increased risk of obesity, particularly central obesity.
Simply put, this study found that whether you drink moderate amounts of alcohol, or you have drunk any amount of alcohol over your lifetime, you have a greater risk of packing on some extra pounds and developing the much-maligned beer gut or not-so-lovely love handles.
So based on these study results, should you shun alcohol? Well, it depends.
On average, one bottle of beer contains 150–200 calories. Light beers, on average, have 100 calories. Four ounces of red wine has about 80 calories, while white has about 75.
Calorie-wise, those choices aren’t that bad. It’s when you get to the fancy mixed drinks or cocktails that you really start packing in the calories. For instance, the average pint-sized margarita can have up to 550 calories!
So, if you are overweight and/or trying to lose weight, then yes, avoiding alcohol can save you hundreds of empty calories. Otherwise, if your weight is in the healthy range, then this really is a case where moderation is key.
Have that celebratory flute of champagne to toast a great accomplishment. Enjoy some heart-friendly red wine while enjoying your dinner out. Sip on an ice-cold light beer on a hot day. Doing so on an occasional basis will most likely not have that much of an effect on your weight, as long as the rest of your diet is clean and healthy, and you exercise, ideally, most days of the week.
 Lourenco S, Oliveira A, and Lopes C. The effect of current and lifetime alcohol consumption on overall and central obesity. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb 29. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2012.20. [Epub ahead of print.]