Sunday, March 14, 2010

One for the Ladies? Women, Alcohol, and Weight Gain

Ladies – here’s one for us. A study published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine gave us some good news: moderate drinking in middle aged women was associated with less weight gain as they got older. Just how much less weight? That’s where things are less impressive. The women who reported drinking no alcohol at all or up to one drink a month gained around 8 pounds over 13 years. The women who drank  lightly (up to one drink a week) gained about 6 ½ pounds in 13 years. The women who drank 1 to 2 drinks a day gained the least weight – about 5 ½ pounds over 13 years.

So the big difference between moderate drinkers and tee-totalers?  Less than 3 pounds on average.  I know. The headlines made it sound so much better.  I actually saw one headline that said that women who drink lose weight – talk about headline hype (and gross inaccuracy!).

A really important thing to understand is this study was an epidemiological study. In practical terms, that means it cannot show cause and effect – only associations. The study results do not show that alcohol causes less weight gain. All we can say is that the women in this study who drank moderately did not gain as much weight as the women who drank little to nothing. We can’t say why or if the alcohol had anything to do with it directly.

One thing we can say is that, despite our best efforts, many of us middle-aged women are in for some weight gain as we get older.  The women in this study started at healthy weights and were all in their late 30’s to early 40’s at the beginning of the study and in their 50’s by the end.  After 13 years, weight went up on average.  The good news is that if you are a moderate drinker, it may be related to less weight gain. I’ll drink (moderately) to that! 

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