Interesting article from The Wine Spectator Magazine.
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The Beer Gut Takes a One-Two Punch: Research Finds Drinking May Not Lead to Weight Gain
By Jacob Gaffney
Going on a diet may be called for now and then, but giving up the occasional glass of wine or beer as part of a new health kick may not be necessary, according to two new studies focusing on the relationship between alcohol consumption and body fat.
Both studies found that moderate drinking generally did not result in fatter torsos. One study challenged the idea of the "beer belly"; the other examined beer, wine and spirits separately and found that wine drinkers tended to be thinner than even nondrinkers.
"Among drinkers, the inverse association [between body fat and alcohol causing it] was strongest for drinkers of wine," wrote researchers from the University of Buffalo in New York in the August issue of the Journal of Nutrition. They found that beer drinking was unrelated" to one's waist size "and liquor drinking was associated with a tendency for greater central [body fat]" when compared with abstaining.
In the study, the researchers note that body-fat distribution is a known risk factor for cardiovascular heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Previous studies have shown the moderate consumption of wine may reduce the risk of both of these diseases.
Included in the study were 2,343 men and women, aged 35 to 79, who were picked at random from the larger Western New York Health Study, which examines alcohol drinking and its impact on the risk of chronic disease. To measure the participants' body-fat distribution, the researchers looked at their body-mass index and their abdominal height, which is measured by having subjects lie on their backs and by recording the distance from the spine to the top of the stomach. This measurement was taken three times.
The volunteers' drinking habits over the previous 30 days were ascertained in detail during interviews, along with lifestyle factors such as smoking, exercise and diet. They were asked the type of alcoholic beverage they prefer (the type they consume more than half the time), how often they drink, how much they drink and whether they imbibed during meals.
The volunteers were divided into the following categories: abstainers, noncurrent drinkers (those who did not consume alcohol during the previous 30 days) and current drinkers. Current drinkers were further divided into daily, weekly (one to less than two drinks a week) and less-than-weekly drinkers (less than one drink a week). Weekly drinkers were also asked if they normally drank only on the weekends or throughout the week. Daily consumption was broken down as one drink to less than two a day, two to less than three drinks a day, etc. (One drink was defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.25 ounces of spirits.)
The researchers then compared drinking preferences to the volunteers' abdominal height and found that wine drinkers had the smallest average "stomach curve" -- for both men and women, an average of about a centimeter shorter than nondrinkers. Beer drinkers' guts protruded no more or less than nondrinkers on average, and spirits drinkers tended to be the pudgiest. (However, the authors noted that wine drinkers tended to exercise more and eat a healthier diet, factors that may also play a part in their body-fat distribution.)
The participants' amount and frequency of consumption also had an effect on their body fat. "Participants with the most intense drinking, more than four drinks in a drinking day, but on a sporadic basis, had some of the largest abdominal heights," the authors reported.
Frequent, light-to-moderate consumption seemed to produce the best results. Men and women who consumed either less than one drink a day or between one and two drinks daily generally had smaller stomachs than those who drank alcohol weekly or less than weekly -- and were in some cases up to 2 centimeters thinner than nondrinkers. Those who had between two and four drinks a day were also generally thinner than nondrinkers, but had similar abdominal heights to those who had one or two servings of alcohol a week.
"These findings support what has been shown in other studies about the beneficial effect of moderate drinking on heart disease," said lead author Joan Dorn, in a University of Buffalo publication. "It also is more evidence that the way people drink is important, and not just the amount of alcohol consumed."
All abdominal heights hovered within 2.5 centimeters on either side of the 20-centimeter mark. For example, among women, abstainers had an average height of 20.99 centimeters, current drinkers averaged 20 centimeters, and women who drank mainly wine averaged 19.39 centimeters.
The other, less-voluminous study, published in the Oct. 1 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also found that our "gut instinct" about beer may be wrong.
"There is a common notion that beer drinkers are more obese," said lead author Martin Bobak from the department of epidemiology and public health at the University College London. He worked with two assistants from the Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Prague. "We wished to rebuke this conventional wisdom."
The study examined data on 1,989 people randomly selected from six districts in the beer-loving Czech Republic. The scientists pulled the information from a 1992 Czech survey in which volunteers completed questionnaires on drinking habits and had both their body-mass index and their waist/hip ratio recorded. For the new study, the researchers eliminated anyone who drank exclusively wine or spirits.
As in the Buffalo study, the researchers compared drinking habits to the distribution of body fat in the subjects. They found that the proportions of beer-drinking men were statistically similar to those of non-drinkers. Women, on the other hand, tended to be thinner the more beer they drank. Although wine drinkers weren't studied, Bobak said, "I would think that they shouldn't show any increase in body fat, because beer has more calories."
However, Bobak rejected the notion that his study may be a good excuse to start pounding down pints. "No way," he said. "The implication is not to drink to lose weight, as drinking has so many adverse effects."
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