Alcohol and Obesity

Range of different alcoholic drinks in a row
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While drinking in moderation can be a part of socializing and unwinding for some, out-of-control drinking can have devastating consequences. As it turns out, excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to weight gain and contribute to obesity. It’s important to know how much is okay and when to stop.

What Does “Moderation” Even Mean?

General guidelines for “drinking in moderation” refer to the quantity of alcohol that can be safely consumed by the average man and the average woman without serious health consequences.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which cites the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking means having no more than 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. It is important to note that this definition refers to drinks consumed on a single day only, not an average over several days—meaning that binge drinking on the weekends only is not okay!

How much counts as a single drink? This varies from country to country, but according to the CDC, in the United States a standard drink is: 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces (a “shot”) of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor, which may include whiskey, vodka, rum, etc.

Diseases Linked to or Caused By Alcohol Consumption

As noted by the CDC, alcohol affects every body system. Certain diseases are known to have a link to alcohol.

Excessive alcohol consumption is known to cause cirrhosis of the liver, which in turn can lead to liver cancer.

Alcohol consumption has also been associated with other cancers of the digestive tract, such as a form of esophageal cancer in men as well as small bowel cancer.

In addition, alcohol consumption has been linked to breast cancer in women, so women who are at high risk for breast cancer should seriously consider abstaining from alcohol consumption.

Consider also that many alcoholic beverages contain sugars that add calories and increase triglycerides (a lipid form of fat in the bloodstream).

Alcohol consumption, even at a moderate level, has also been associated with increased rates of drowning, fall injuries and car crashes.

The “Beer Belly”

Certain alcoholic beverages, such as beer, are notoriously full of calories and sugars that can raise triglycerides, as noted above. Weight gain around the waist—the infamous “beer belly”—also leads to centripetal obesity, which has been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Additionally, if you already have, or have an increased risk for, a disease linked to obesity, such as fatty liver disease or breast cancer, alcohol consumption can greatly increase your risks.

Are There Any Health Benefits?

The only form of alcohol that has been shown to have health benefits is red wine, and only when consumed in moderation. Red wine is a component of most forms of the Mediterranean Diet, which has been proven, through decades of research, to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease

Those Who Should Not Drink at All

Barring religious preferences, certain groups of people should not drink alcohol at all due to the serious potential health consequences. According to the CDC and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the following people should not drink at all:

  • Children and adolescents
  • Anyone who cannot maintain a moderate level of drinking
  • Anyone who plans to drive or operate machinery
  • Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant
  • Anyone taking a medication (prescription or over-the-counter) that may interact with alcohol
  • Those who are recovering from alcoholism.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions. Accessible online at

Zhu S, Wang Z, Heshka S, Heo M, et al. Waist circumference and obesity-associated risk factors among whites in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey: clinical action thresholds. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:743-9.

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