Beer bellies – Officially a myth


A recent study by European scientists has now dispelled the myth of the beer belly. The article below originally appeared as part of the BelgianShop WeekLetter 1388 (www.belgianshop.com).

A new study has dispelled a myth that consuming beer inevitably leads to developing a so-called beer belly, NHS communicated on July, 6.

German and Swedish scientists have discovered that the so-called ‘beer belly’ is not caused by consuming alcohol – but more to do with genetics.

This cohort study looked at beer consumption, weight and body measurements in almost 20,000 people on two occasions over an average of six years. It found that increased beer consumption over time was linked with increased waist circumference, particularly for men. However, once a person’s overall weight was taken into account, the significance of these associations disappeared. This suggests that any weight gain from beer is distributed all over the body, rather than being concentrated around the waist.

The research was carried out by M Schutze and colleagues from the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrucke and Fulda University of Applied Sciences, Germany, and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. The study was funded by German Cancer Aid, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and the European Union. The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

This cohort study aimed to investigate gender-specific associations between beer consumption and waist circumference (WC), and to challenge the commonly held belief that a ‘beer belly’ is caused by drinking beer. Obesity that is centred around the abdomen is said to be one of the strongest cardiovascular risk factors.

In total, the EPIC study involved 27,548 people between 35 and 65 years old who were recruited between 1994 and 1998. This analysis was based on 19,941 members of this cohort (62% of whom were female) who had information available on their beer consumption and waist circumference. Alcohol consumption over the past year was assessed at the beginning of the study using a food frequency questionnaire, and then reassessed at follow-up about six years later.

The researchers gave men and women different categories of beer consumption. For example, in women the highest category of consumption of 250ml/day or more was considered ‘moderate’, while in men 250 to 500ml/day was considered ‘light’; 500 to 1000ml/day ‘moderate’; and anything above this level was considered ‘heavy’. At the beginning of the study, body weight, hip and waist circumference were measured, with any change in these measurements assessed at follow-up. In their analyses, the researchers used statistical models to look at changes in waist circumference for each beer consumption category, while also taking into account concurrent changes in body weight and hip circumference in order to monitor the site-specific effect of beer. They also looked at how changes in beer consumption affected changes in waist circumference. Age, smoking, education, physical activity and several other chronic diseases were also taken into account by the researchers.

The authors conclude that excessive beer consumption leads to a gain in waist circumference, which is closely related to concurrent overall weight gain. This study does not support the common belief of an effect of beer specifically on the abdomen, i.e. the ‘beer belly’.

The best way to keep weight down is by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and keeping alcohol consumption at low to moderate levels, experts advise.

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