Society's Dirty Little Weight Gain Secret

The National Center for Health Statistics this week released some data from a study on alcohol usage of Americans. The results were alarming to put it mildly. According to the NCHS, 16% of all calories consumed in the United States are alcohol calories!

The NCHS Study

The NCHS study tracked the calorie consumption habits of U.S. adults from 2007-2010. What they found is that the average American male over 20 years of age consumes 150 alcohol calories per day. Women of the same age consume an average of 50 alcohol calories per day.

When this level of alcohol calorie intake is extrapolated over the course of a year, the average male consumes 54,750 alcohol calories per year which is equivalent to 15.6 pounds of body weight! In other words, if the average American man burned off exactly as many calories each day as he derived from fat, protein and carbohydrates but retained the added body weight from alcohol calories, he would gain nearly 16 pounds in one year!

For women, the news is slightly better. The average American woman consumes 18,250 alcohol calories per year which corresponds to 5.2 pounds of added body weight if the calories are not burned off through activity.

Source: calories per pound of body weight.

However, as the NCHS study indicates, alcohol calorie consumption is anything but evenly dispersed through the population. 67.3% of men consume no calories from alcohol on a given day while 19% of men consume greater than 300 alcohol calories on a daily basis. 82.1% of women consume no calories on a given day while 6% of women consume greater than 300 calories.

Here are some more quick and interesting facts from the NCHS study on calories in alcohol:

  • An overwhelming majority of alcohol calories consumed by men come from beer rather than wine or spirits
  • As a group, females more evenly intake beer, wine and spirits
  • 20-39 year old men drink more than 40-59 year old men, for women, the split is nearly even
  • A big dropoff occurs in alcohol calories consumed for those aged 60 and older from both genders
  • Non-hispanic black men consume more alcohol than non-hispanic white men or hispanic men
  • Non-hispanic white women consume more alcohol than non-hispanic black women or hispanic women
  • Women who earn at least 350% above the poverty line consume far more alcohol than women below this threshold
  • The Lesson

    So what lessons can be taken away from this NCHS study? First, let's state the obvious: Americans consume a lot of alcohol. However, while 16% of calorie consumption coming in the form of alcohol in the United States seems alarming, it's important to point out that a relatively small percentage of the population is consuming the majority of this alcohol. Most Americans don't really drink and some drink way too much. If the average American is drinking 15.6 pounds (man) or 5.2 pounds (woman) of alcohol calories per year, it means the people doing most of the drinking in the U.S. are placing a lot of work on themselves to remain at a reasonable weight.

    The study also reveals the damaging impact of calories from beer. 19% of men derive 300+ daily calories from alcohol compared to only 6% of women. This is not solely attributable to women merely consuming fewer total alcoholic drinks. Also a factor is the fact that men consume a much higher quantities of beer than women. If you're going to drink alcohol, beer is the worst choice from a caloric standpoint due to the calories from carbohydrates in addition to the alcohol calories. A single serving of beer has between 110-250 calories depending on variety. Contrast this with a glass of liquor on the rocks (80 calories) or a glass of wine (90 calories) and it becomes easy to see how a higher percentage of men consume more than 300 daily alcohol calories.

    Alcohol and weight loss are two generally incompatible facets of life. If you're serious about losing weight, the added alcohol calories consumed by the average American places a greater burden on weight loss efforts.

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