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Research Summary

Drinking Frequency and Amount Have Opposite Effects on BMI

Some research suggests that alcohol consumption may influence a person's weight. To examine the potential relationship between drinking patterns and body mass index (BMI), investigators in the United States pooled cross-sectional data from 45,896 adult participants in a national health survey. Subjects were current drinkers who never smoked.

  • In weighted and adjusted analyses, BMI significantly increased in both men and women as alcohol intake increased from 1 drink to >=4 drinks per drinking day on average (P for trend <0.001).
  • However, BMI significantly decreased in both men and women as drinking frequency increased from the lowest quintiles of drinking days (1–11 drinking days in the past year) to the highest quintiles (2–7 drinking days per week) (P for trend <0.001).
  • Those who consumed the smallest amounts (1 drink per drinking day) the most frequently were the leanest; those who consumed the greatest amounts (>=3 drinks per drinking day) the least frequently were the heaviest.


Limiting analyses to nonsmokers is a strength of this study since teasing apart the separate effects of drinking and smoking—behaviors that often co-occur—is difficult. Among these nonsmokers, there was a strong pattern of decreasing BMI with increasing drinking frequency, particularly with consumption of small amounts. As is the case with drinking and many other health consequences, benefits accrue with regular moderate alcohol use while harm often ensues from heavy episodic drinking.

R. Curtis Ellison, MD


Breslow RA, Smothers BA. Drinking patterns and body mass index in never smokers. National Health Interview Survey, 1997-2001. Am J Epidemiol. 2005;161(4):368–376.