Drinking Alcohol and Weight, Obesity and BMI

Research involving over 37,000 non-smokers found that men and women who consumed one alcoholic drink per day with the greatest frequency (three to seven days per week) had the lowest body mass index (BMI).

BMI is routinely used in medical research to measure leanness/fatness. Lower BMI scores indicate leanness and higher scores indicate being overweight. BMI is calculated by dividing an individual’s weight in kilograms by height in meters squared.

Because smoking and drinking interact to influence weight, the researchers limited their study to people who had never smoked so they could focus entirely on the effects of alcohol itself on weigh.

Although frequent light/moderate drinkers were the leanest, infrequent heavy drinkers were the most overweight. The results illustrate the importance of light/moderate frequent drinking. For example, consuming a drink every day for a week is associated with healthful weight but drinking seven drinks one day per week is associated with obesity.

Simply looking at the total quantity of alcohol consumed over time obscures the importance of the pattern of alcohol consumption. One or two drinks each day is associated with better health and greater longevity whereas consuming the same quantity (seven to fourteen drinks) once a week is associated with negative health. The same quantity of alcohol can have either beneficial or harmful consequences depending on the pattern of its consumption.

Obesity is a serious risk factor for numerous chronic illnesses as well as early death.

The research was based on data collected from 1997 through 2001 as part of the National Health Interview Study (NHIS), a nationally representative survey of the US population conducted annually by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The researchers, both of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), published their findings in the American Journal of Epidemiology.


  • Breslow, R.A., and Smothers, B.A. Drinking pattern and body mass index in never smokers: National Health Survey, 1997-2001. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2005, 161(4), 368-376.

Additional Reading:

  • Colditz, G., et al. Alcohol intake in relation to diet and obesity in women and men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1991, 54, 49-55.
  • Cordain, L., et al. Influence of moderate daily wine consumption upon body weight regulation and metabolism in healthy free living males. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1997, 16(2), 134-139
  • Hellerstedt, W. L., et al. The association between alcohol intake and adiposity in the general population. American Journal of Epidemiology, 1990, 132(4), 594-611.
  • Istvan, J., et al. The relationship between patterns of alcohol consumption and body weight, International Journal of Epidemiology, 1995, 24(3), 543-546.
  • Jequier, E. Alcohol intake and body weight: a paradox. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999, 69, 173-174.
  • Kahn, H. S., et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults' 10-year change in body mass index and the likelihood of gain at the waist. American Journal of Public Health, 1997, 87(5), 747-754.
  • Klesges, R. C., et al. Effects of alcohol intake on resting energy expenditure in young women social drinkers. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1994, 59, 805-809.
  • Landis, W. E. M.. Alcohol and energy intake. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1995, 62(suppl.), 11015-11068.
  • Liu, S., et al. A prospective study of alcohol intake and change in body weight among US adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1994, 140(10), 912-920.
  • Mannisto, E., et al. Reported alcohol intake, diet and body mass index in male smokers. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1996, 50, 239-245.
  • Mannisto, S., et al. Alcohol beverage drinking, diet and body mass index in a cross-national survey, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1997, 151, 326-332.
  • Prentice, A. M. Alcohol and obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 1995, 19(Suppl. 5), S44-S50.

Filed Under: Health