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Drinking Patterns and Body Mass Index in Non-Smokers
The authors of a new study comparing drinking patterns and body mass index in non-smokers examined the relation between drinking patterns and body mass index (BMI) by pooling cross-sectional data from the 1997-2001 National Health Interview Surveys in the USA.  Weighted analyses included 45,896 adult never smokers who were current alcohol drinkers.  Height and weight were self-reported.

In adjusted analyses, alcohol quantity and frequency had opposite associations with BMI.  As quantity increased from 1 drink/drinking day to = 4 drinks/drinking day, BMI significantly increased; in men, it increased from 26.5 to 27.5, and in women, it increased from 25.1 to 25.9. However, as frequency increased from low quintiles of drinking days/year to high quintiles, BMI significantly decreased; in men, it decreased from 27.4 to 26.3, and in women, it decreased from 26.2 to 24.3. In stratified analyses of frequency trends within quantity categories, BMI declines were more pronounced in women than in men, but all linear trends were inverse and significant.  In all respondents combined, persons who consumed the smallest quantity the most frequently were leanest, and those who consumed the greatest quantity the least frequently were heaviest. The authors conclude that alcohol may contribute to excess body weight among certain drinkers.

The investigators found that, overall, consumers of larger amounts of alcohol were more obese.  However, their most striking findings related to frequency of drinking.  In non-drinkers their BMI was essentially the same as the lowest quintile of drinkers who consumed 1 drink/day.

Roughly, the lowest quintile is drinking rarely, the next quintile about once per month, and the top quintile is drinking several days/week to daily.  Regardless of the amount consumed, there is a strong pattern of decreasing BMI for increasing frequency of consumption.  Further, within essentially every quintile of frequency of drinking, the BMI is lower for people consuming 1 drink/drinking day than those consuming more perdrinking day.  For all subjects and for men and women separately, the decline in BMI is greatest among subjects consuming 1 drink/drinking day.

The results from this paper suggests that to keep from gaining weight from alcohol, drink only a little at a time, but do it regularly. 

Source: Breslow RA, Smothers BA.  Drinking patterns and body mass index in never smokers.  National Health Interview Survey, 1997-2001.  Am J Epidemiol 2005;161:368-376.

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