It’s summer time and that means beers on the patio, beers while you’re BBQ’ing, and beers after almost any sporting event; at least for many people. Common folklore has beer associated with obesity, especially abdominal obesity, hence the term “beer belly”.
Abdominal obesity is of particular concern as this is the type of fat typically associated with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. But does lager really equal larger or is it all a myth?
Can Regular Consumption of Beer Promote Obesity?
Is the “beer belly” truth or a drunken illusion? A recent meta-analysis combined results from 35 observational studies and 12 experimental studies that looked at the effects of beer on body weight and belly size. The majority of the studies found either a small increase in body weight with beer intake or no-effect for general obesity and abdominal obesity.
Interestingly, they also report gender differences. In females, several studies found a decreased body weight with beer intake; whereas, in males, body weight and abdominal obesity increased. Unsurprisingly, quantity also had an effect. Apparently, for men the risk of abdominal obesity was higher when they drank more than 4L per week – that’s about 7 pints or 11 bottles per week (1).
The study also highlights a few potential confounders. Beer drinking is associated with poor diet habits and smoking, which could have affected the results. The authors also note that the pattern of beer consumption may be important, for example moderate vs. binge drinking; something not considered in these studies. The accuracy of peoples’ reporting of their beer and alcohol consumption also needs to considered, as does the possibility that the reporting maybe even more inaccurate among people with obesity than those of a healthy weight.
Finally, they note that many of the studies looking at the link between beer and obesity are of low quality and much more needs to be done (1). We’re sure there won’t have any trouble with recruitment for future studies!
What are the Potential Links between Beer and Weight Gain?
Beer contains calories from both alcohol and carbohydrates. All alcoholic drinks contain calories so what makes beer different? It’s not that beer contains more calories per the same volume as many other alcoholic drinks, it’s more so the quantity.
A can of beer is 330 ml and contains approximately 130-150 Calories; whereas, a serving of wine is only 150 ml and contains 100-120 Calories (1). Whether alcohol from beer has a greater impact on obesity than alcohol for other drinks is controversial with evidence to suggest both no (2) and yes (3).
Alcohol Alters Metabolism
Alcohol in general may promote obesity because of the way it is metabolized. The body does not have a way of storing alcohol, so it uses the alcohol as an energy source immediately. Since your body is essentially being fuelled by alcohol, it is not burning fat. If the calories in alcohol push your total calories above your needs, your body will store the extra “fat calories” you are not burning, particularly around your midsection (4).
Increased Appetite and Energy Intake
Beer may also contribute to obesity as it provides liquid calories, which are less filling than solid foods (5). Alcohol may be worse than other liquids, as it seems to be extremely inefficient at triggering the usual “I feel full” signals. What this means is that the calories coming from alcohol tend to be extra calories NOT recognized by the brain as contributing to your total intakes for the day (1).
For example, people ate more calories in an open buffet when they drank beer containing alcohol as compared to when they drank the same type of beer without alcohol (6). Beer and wine also cause people to eat faster, eat for longer, and still feel less full (7).
No Baloney’s advice. While there may be something to the “beer belly” the correlation is small at best with intakes of beer <500 ml/day (1). Furthermore, in some cases moderate consumption of alcohol has been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality (1); although certainly not recommended as a prophylaxis.
If you enjoy the occasional beer, bottoms up! On the other hand, excess amounts could be contributing to weight gain and other health problems. As for whether some beers are better than others, light beer is, of course lower in Calories, as are some stouts like Guinness, but Calories are pretty similar for most standard beers. Check out our St. Patrick’s Day Food Fight! for more information on the nutrients provided in beer.
- Bendsen NT et al. (2013) Is beer consumption related to measures of abdominal and general obesity? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews 71(2):67-87.
- Wannamethee SG et al. (2003) Alcohol, body weight, and weight gain in middle-aged men. Am J Clin Nutr 77:1312-17.
- Bergmann MM et al. (2011) The associate of lifetime alcohol use with measures of abdominal and general adiposity in a large-scale European cohort. Eur J Clin Nutr 65:1079-1087.
- Sonko BJ et al. (1994) Effect of alcohol on postmeal fat storage. Am J Clin Nutr 59:619-625. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/59/3/619.long
- Leidy HJ et al. (2010) Food form and portion size affect post-prandial appetite sensations and hormonal responses in healthy, nonobese, older adults. Obesity (Sliver Spring) 18:293-299.
- Hetherington MM et al. (2001) Stimulation of appetite by alcohol. Physio Behav 74(3):283-9.
- Westerterp-Plantenga MS et al. (1999) The appetizing effect of an aperitif in overweight and normal-weight humans. Am J Clin Nutr: 69:205-212. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/69/2/205.long