Latest scientific news 27 April 2023

Is the intake of wine/alcoholic beverages associated with body weight changes?

The current prospective study examined the contradictory relation between the intake of alcoholic beverages with waist circumference (WC) and body weight (BMI).

Alcoholic beverages provide calories, and reducing the consumption is often used as an argument not to put on extra body weight.  An increasing trend in energy consumed from alcoholic beverages coupled with increases in waist circumference (WC) and body weight (BMI) have been reported in the US over the past two decades. But when you examine the scientific evidence, studies of alcohol intake with measures of body weight are inconsistent: positive, negative and no associations of alcohol intake with WC and body weight have been observed. In such inconsistent study findings, the drinking pattern and the preferred type of alcoholic beverage may also play a role, and these habits can change over the years.

In the mid 80’s, a prospective study was initiated, where 5000 young adults were recruited for the CARDIA study (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults). These participants were questioned about their eating, drinking, smoking and exercise pattern and their socio-economic status. Every 5 years, these parameters as well as their weight and waist circumference were measured again.

Since the drinking patterns of these CARDIA participants were also assessed every 5 years, the researchers could determine whether changes in WC and body weight differ between individuals who drink and those who do not. They could examine whether changes in drinking habits during these 5-year intervals were linked to a corresponding 5-year change in waist circumference and body weight (BMI, Body Mass Index) and possibly address the knowledge gaps.

Changes in the drinking level (light/moderate and excessive*) and 5-year changes by beverage type were also evaluated.

Thus, for the first time, data of 4355 American individuals are available, which can be used to assess whether and how a change in drinking patterns over each 5-year interval could affect body weight. This study adds evidence to the existing inconsistent study findings, however, since the study is observational, a causal inference cannot be drawn. It can provide at least an indication for possible associations, which can be further researched.

Abstainers (“stable non-consumers”) served as the control group in this study: They had indicated in all six assessments that they did not consume alcoholic beverages. Both the abstainers and the consumers of alcoholic beverages gained weight over the 25 yr follow up period (increased body weight and waist circumferences).

However, certain changes in drinking habits were found to be associated with smaller increases than with consistent abstinence. 

Changes in men

Thus, among men, a reduced consumption of alcoholic beverages was associated with lower increases in body weight and waistline, and did so when “excessive” consumption was reduced.

Among women, the relation between the changes in their drinking habits and their body weight was only obvious when drinking patterns were included. The women put on less weight than abstainers, especially when they maintained (or started) a light to moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages. In the current study, this is the equivalent of up to 7 drinks per week, with one drink corresponding to 14 g of alcohol or around 150 ml of wine.

Beverage preference among women

When beverage preference was also included the 5-year intervals, it was shown that women gained less weight than abstainers, when they maintained their wine consumption and reduced their consumption of spirits and mixed drinks. Abstaining from wine, on the other hand, did not provide any benefits.

The researchers concluded that this was the first study to examine changes in waist circumference and body weight related to changes in alcoholic beverage consumption (by drinking level and beverage type) in US-based participants. They emphasize, however, that the associations of alcohol consumption with obesity/body weight are complex and that the observed magnitude between alcohol intake and body weight changes were small.

(*) Definitions:


light drinker = < 7 drinks/week

moderate drinker = 7-14 drinks/week

excessive drinker = > 14 drinks/week


light drinker =< 4 drinks/week

Moderate drinker: 4-7 drinks/week

Excessive drinker = > 7 drinks/week

ReferenceIs the intake of wine/alcoholic beverages associated with body weight changes?


Butler, JL et al.: Associations of 5-year changes in alcoholic beverage intake with 5-year changes in waist circumference and BMI in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. PLoS ONE 2023;18:e0281722