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Moderate Drinking May Lower Obesity Risk

But too much alcohol can pack on pounds, study finds

MONDAY, Dec. 5, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The benefits of light to moderate drinking when it comes to heart disease have been touted for years, but new research suggests it may also help you stay svelte.

Regular drinkers who consume one or two drinks a few times a week are less likely to be obese compared with people who do not drink. However, having four or more drinks per day increases the risk of being obese by 46 percent, researchers report.

The report appears in the Dec. 4 online issue of BMC Public Health.

"We were surprised to find that people who were moderate drinkers were less likely to be obese," said study co-author Dr. James Rohrer, from the department of family medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

"We don't want to give the wrong impression," Rohrer continued. "We certainly don't want to recommend that nondrinkers become drinkers just to try to control their weight."

However, Rohrer said there is no reason to be worried about an occasional drink when it comes to gaining weight. "There may well be a protective effect," he said.

In their study, Rohrer and his colleague, Ahmed Arif, from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, collected data on 8,236 nonsmokers who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III. These people had also answered questions about their drinking habits and their body mass index was measured.

They found that current drinkers had a 0.73 lower chance of being obese when compared with nondrinkers. People who regularly drank less than five drinks per week were less likely to be obese than nondrinkers and heavy drinkers.

Why drinking is associated with a lower risk of obesity is not known, Rohrer said.

Rohrer thinks drinking should not be done to excess. "Moderation is the best policy," he said. "Moderate drinking is probably a reasonably healthy behavior. We cannot show any benefits from the complete abstention from alcohol."

One expert thinks the findings have no basis in biology.

"Alcohol is very energy-dense, providing 7 kcal (kilocalories) per gram of ethanol," said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. "And its disinhibiting effects can induce greater consumption of calories from other sources."

Katz thinks the link between alcohol and weight loss is likely due to other healthy behaviors. "Many health-conscious people have a daily drink because of the widely touted health benefits; it may be a constellation of behaviors in such people that lead to weight control."

In addition, overweight people stop drinking as a way of cutting calories, Katz said. "This would produce the appearance of a weight-control benefit from moderate drinking, but it would be illusory," he suggested.

"The bottom line is that alcohol should not be invoked as a weight-loss aid," Katz said. "Rather, moderate alcohol intake as part of an overall pattern of health-promoting behaviors is likely to be associated with weight control."

More information

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases can tell you more about obesity.

SOURCES: James Rohrer, M.D., department of family medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of public health, director, Prevention Research Center Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Dec. 4, 2005, BMC Public Health
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