Study finds strong links between harmful alcohol consumption and obesity in Irish adults

Study Finds Strong Links Between Harmful Alcohol Consumption And Obesity In Irish Adults
The research found almost 33 per cent of alcohol consumers were obese, with a further 40 per cent being overweight. Photo: PA Images
Share this article

Seán McCárthaigh

A new study has found strong links between harmful levels of alcohol consumption and obesity in Irish adults.

Research on the association between drinking alcohol and weight in a sample of the Irish population found a majority of those who drink alcohol are either obese or overweight.


Controlling for other factors which could affect a person’s weight, such as age and health-related variables like smoking and diet, the study established a positive link between harmful alcohol consumption and both waist size and body mass index (BMI).

Harmful alcohol consumption was assessed on the basis of responses provided about drinking habits using an internationally-recognised, standardised tool.

However, researchers said the exact underlying mechanism through which alcohol consumption is associated with obesity “is not fully understood”.

A survey of over 6,800 adults aged 25 and over in the Republic involved physical measurements including weight, height and waist circumference.


Alcohol consumption was highly prevalent among respondents, with 82 per cent admitting to drinking alcohol.

Overall, it found almost 33 per cent of alcohol consumers were obese, with a further 40 per cent being overweight.

People are considered overweight if they have a BMI of 25 or more.

BMI is a measure of a person’s body fat, which is based on their weight, relative to their height. A person’s BMI is calculated by their weight in kilograms being divided by the square of their height in metres.


Adults with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese, while a BMI in the range 18.5-25 is classified as normal.

'Discordant and inconclusive'

The study, the findings of which were published in the medical journal BMC Public Health, noted that the results of other research on the association between alcohol consumption and obesity have been “discordant and inconclusive”.

The latest study found “a significant association” between binge-drinking and waist size, but not with being overweight or obese.

Binge-drinking was defined as the consumption of six or more standard drinks per occasion.


At the same time, researchers found a strong inverse link between the frequency of alcohol consumption and BMI, with those consuming alcohol at least three times per week being 49 per cent less likely to be affected by being overweight or obese.

The authors of the report said several factors could explain the inconsistent results of the link between alcohol and obesity.

Although the researchers controlled for socio-demographic and health-related variables, they said they did not investigate individual consumption patterns or cultural dynamics that drive alcohol consumption, or legislation which could influence drinking levels.

They also noted that the type of alcohol consumed can affect eating patterns and physical activity, which in turn affect body weight.


Based on previous research, they observed: “Those who consume beer tend to have worse dietary habits than those who consume other beverages.”

The authors of the study said alcohol could also affect the ability of the body to absorb nutrients, which can lead to reduced energy intake.

They said their findings had clear implications given both alcohol consumption and obesity were prevalent in Ireland.


However, the study said existing national and international guidelines for obesity management have not addressed the possible association between alcohol consumption and obesity.

It claimed this is partly due to the conflicting evidence between both the quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption and obesity.

The authors of the report also remarked: “Despite current legislation to control alcohol intake, the prevalence of harmful alcohol consumption is still high, partly due to the normative view of alcohol consumption in Ireland.”

They called for a range of measures, including increased public awareness of the possible association between alcohol consumption and obesity.

They also noted that the Alcohol Act, which was introduced in 2018, includes policies that can further denormalise alcohol consumption, such as minimum unit pricing, structural separation of alcohol products, health labelling on drinks and restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship.

The study recommended investment in research on alcohol consumption and obesity, particularly in Ireland, because both issues are considered public health problems.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that 13 per cent of adults globally are obese with 39 per cent considered overweight.

The Healthy Ireland Survey 2017 calculated that 23 per cent of Irish adults were affected by obesity with a further 37 per cent classified as overweight.

The prevalence of obesity, which has more than tripled over the past four decades, has been linked to a variety of chronic illnesses including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

Read More

Message submitting... Thank you for waiting.

Want us to email you top stories each lunch time?

Download our Apps
© 2024, developed by Square1 and powered by