Topic: The Beer Belly Myth
I’m sure you’ve read an article or two in the past year or so, or at least seen a triumphant twitter update, that exuberantly claims defeat to an age old myth, the beer belly. Citing a British study on Czech men and woman that states, “They found no link between the amount of beer they drink and the size of their stomachs. Writing in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they said claims people are obese because they drink too much beer are wrong,” many beer authors breathed a sigh of guilt-relinquished-relief and proudly declared to the world that their beer belly must come from unknown origins; perhaps genetics, constipation, a tapeworm: anywhere but from beer.
Am I the only one not buying this?
It seems much easier to say, “I’m just a little chubby,” than it is to say, “I drink too much beer.”
Now, I’m not MD…I don’t assume to possess a detailed knowledge of the gastro-intestinal workings of the human body, energy absorption, etc., but I did ace health class in high school, I do enjoy beer, and I am a not so proud proprietor of a…*gasp*…beer belly. (Those are internet worthy “expert” qualifications, right?
Hear me out. Let’s take a quick look at this study.
Who are the subjects:
891 Czech men and 1,098 women between the ages of 25 and 64
How much are they drinking:
The survey showed the men consumed on average 3.1 litres of beer each week with women drinking on average 0.3 litres per week.
What were the conclusions:
Doctors measured their weight and their waist to hip ratio and body mass index, both used to measure obesity.
The scientists found no link between beer consumption and obesity.
They said the findings suggested there is no truth in the claim that drinking too much beer makes people obese.
“There is a common notion that beer drinkers are, on average, more ‘obese’ than either non-drinkers or drinkers of wine or spirits,” the researchers said.
“This is reflected, for example, by the expression ‘beer belly’.
“If this is so, then beer intake should be associated with some general measure of obesity, such as body mass index or with indices of fat distribution such as waist to hip ratio or with both.”
But they said: “The association between beer and obesity if it exists is probably weak.”
What were they drinking? Let’s interpolate a bit here. Admittedly postulating, I’d be willing to bet that the majority of the beer drinkers in the study primarily drink Pilsner, rarely going much higher than 5.5%. Typically, the higher the ABV, the higher the calorie count (reference Simply Beer for more info). I guarantee that the typical beers consumed by Mike and I on a weekly basis have at least double the calories found in the typical Czech’s beer.
How about their consumption? The average male drank 3.1 liters of beer a week. That’s 8.7 long necks a week. Pretty moderate consumption if you ask me. How many beers do you consume in a week? More than the average Czech test subject?
What about life style? Here I am primarily in the dark. Although an educated guess, based off the more predominant and widespread agricultural and industrial subsistence of the Czech Republic (contra the US), would be that the Czech test subjects lead a more active lifestyle (vocationally) than the majority of Americans, including myself.
Here’s what I’m getting at. You can’t take one small, isolated test subject from a different country, different culture, with different habits and lifestyles, and transpose the results upon an overwhelmingly different country, whether that be the US, the UK, Germany, or wherever. Odds are the average beer geek who believes drinking beer has no impact on his beer gut drinks more than 3.1 litres of beer a week. I do! I know several guys who put down twice that in a weekend.
I wonder what the test results would have been like had the survey been administered in my home town, Toledo, OH? Or how would they differ were the researchers to use the grounds of the Great American Beer Fest as their subject?
The bottom line is: When you drink a beer you consume calories. If your body doesn’t fully use this energy, the surplus has to go somewhere, and that place is your (and my!) gut, same as when I ate that fatty cheeseburger and french fries on Saturday. Beer is no different than any other food. While I can’t blame my gut solely on beer, I can partially…just as I can partially blame that cheeseburger, my desk job, and my lapsed jogging routine. Beer isn’t the SOLE cause, but a peripheral cause of that gut.
You don’t have to call it a beer belly since it stands to reason that while affecting the “beer belly” other factors have a bigger effect. Until I rid myself of the bulge above my belt, I’ll call it my “I’m too complacent to jog” belly. Although I’ll admit that’s not as cute sounding.