Alcohol, as well as sugary drinks, adds calories to the US diet, finds study

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 21 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7898
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

Alcoholic drinks contribute the same proportion of calories in adults’ diets as sugary drinks do in children’s, says a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1

On any given day, men aged 20-39 who drink alcoholic beverages consume 174 calories, more than the 150 calories in one can of sugary soda.

“As with calorically sweetened beverages, alcoholic beverages are a top contributor to caloric intake but provide few nutrients,” say the authors, reporting data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, part of the CDC. They note that relatively little attention has previously been paid to the calories from alcoholic drinks.

Besides providing calories with little nutritional value, alcohol consumption is known to contribute to injuries and chronic disease.

“On a given day, consumers of alcoholic beverages obtain approximately 16% of their total caloric intake from alcoholic beverages. This represents the same contribution to overall calories as the 16% from added sugars among US children,” the report says.

US dietary guidelines say that most people should get no more than 5-15% of calories from solid fats and added sugars.2 Because alcohol is considered part of solid fats and added sugars, the percentage of total calories from alcohol alone is above the recommended 5-15%.

Among US adults aged 20 years and over, about a third of men and 18% of women consume alcoholic beverages on a given day, the study says. Of those who drink alcoholic beverages, almost 20% of men and 6% of women consume more than 300 calories a day from alcoholic beverages. That is equivalent to two or more 12 ounce beers, more than two and a half glasses of wine (12.5 ounces), or more than 4.5 ounces of spirits.

Men consumed about 150 calories a day and women about 50 calories from alcohol.

Men and women in the highest income category consumed more calories from alcoholic drinks a day than those at a lower income level (on average, about 117 calories versus 90 calories respectively).

Beer was the favored beverage for men and wine for women.

Young men and women who drink alcoholic beverages consumed the most calories from alcohol a day (for men aged 20-29 years 175 calories, for women aged 20-29 about 60 calories). Older men and women consumed fewer calories from alcoholic drinks.

The study found no racial or ethnic differences in alcohol consumption.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7898