CDC study illustrates caloric cost of alcohol

Adrienne Burch

American adults consume an average of 100 calories per day from alcoholic beverages, with young adults racking up the most calories from alcoholic drinks, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This calorie intake from alcoholic beverages ranks almost as high as American’s calorie intake from sugar drinks like sodas, which is on average 178 kilocalories a day for men and 103 kilocalories for women, according to a 2011 CDC study.

“Given the current state of health of Americans in terms of weight status, I believe it’s important for us to recognize all areas in which Americans may have a tendency to get unneeded calories, which can often include alcohol consumption,” Sheena Quizon Gregg, registered dietician and assistant director for Health Promotion and Wellness Nutrition at The University of Alabama, said.

One third of men and 18 percent of women aged 20 and over consume alcoholic beverages on a daily basis. These consumers obtain approximately 16 percent of their total caloric intake from alcoholic beverages on any given day.

Twenty percent of men and 6 percent of women consume more than 300 calories from alcoholic beverages daily. These 300 calories are the equivalent to two or more 12-ounce beers or more than two and a half glasses of wine.

This calorie intake exceeds the recommended amount to sustain a healthy lifestyle. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women should not exceed one drink per day and that men should not have more than two.

“Although the risks of excessive alcohol consumption in terms of injury and chronic disease are well known, less is known about the calories consumed from alcoholic beverages,” according to the CDC study conducted in November.

The highest category for excessive calorie intake from alcoholic beverages is young adults, including college students. On average, men aged 20-39 consume the greatest number of calories from alcohol, at 174 per day.

Yasmine Neggers, a UA human nutrition professor, said some college students have been reported to be heavy drinkers or to binge drink during social occasions. This excessive consumption of alcohol could result in a rapid increase in the caloric intake by college students from alcoholic beverages.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking five or more drinks on a single occasion for men and four or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within a two-hour span.

“This type of drinking is very detrimental to health and general wellbeing,” Neggers said.

Quizon-Gregg said this study could certainly support a possible assumption that excess calories from alcohol can play a role in the weight gain that college students often incur during their college years.

“An imbalanced lifestyle of eating too many calories compared to those expended from exercise and general movement can lead to weight gain,” Quizon-Gregg said.

However, when it comes to comparing calories consumed by Americans from alcohol consumption to soda consumption, sodas still provides much more ground for excessive calorie intake.

There is a difference between the number of kilocalories provided by alcohol and the carbohydrates used in sweetened drinks, Neggers said.

“Alcoholic drinks will have approximately 100 to 120 kcals per serving, while sugar sweetened beverages like 12 oz. Coke provide 150 kcals per serving,” Neggers said. “So, usually, per serving, alcoholic drinks have fewer kcals per serving than sugar sweetened beverages.”

Quizon-Gregg said it is also important to remember that the frequency of consumption of soft drinks throughout the day can be quite higher than that of alcohol since sodas are often consumed during all times of the day, thus leading to a higher concentration of calories overall.

“This study could also remind and prompt not only students, but the general public that calories from alcohol need to be considered when one is trying to manage their weight,” she said.