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Weight-loss results improve with less alcohol consumption

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December 12, 2018

Consuming alcohol negatively affects long-term weight loss in adults with type 2 diabetes and obesity, according to findings published in Obesity.

“Though the association between alcohol consumption and body weight is unclear, decreasing or eliminating calories from alcohol is typically recommended during weight loss,” Ariana M. Chao, PhD, CRNP, assistant professor of nursing in the department of biobehavioral health sciences at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia, and colleagues wrote. “Despite the potential benefits of reducing alcohol consumption on weight management, few studies have examined whether participants report changes in alcohol intake during weight-loss treatment and whether alcohol influences weight loss.”

Chao and colleagues examined data from 4,901 U.S. adults with type 2 diabetes and overweight or obesity who participated in the Look AHEAD study. All participants were randomly assigned to an intensive lifestyle intervention or diabetes support and education. They were followed for 4 years. The intervention included group and individual sessions, calorie (1,200-1,800 kcal per day depending on weight) and physical activity goals ( 175 minutes per week), as well as information on the caloric content of alcohol and advice to decrease alcohol consumption. The education group received three group sessions focusing on diet, exercise and support.

Alcohol intake was assessed each year via questionnaire. Based on these self-reported measures, participants were divided into five groups: abstainers (no drinks reported at all survey points), inconsistent drinkers (some drinking reported between baseline and 4 years), light drinkers (average of fewer than seven drinks per week for men and fewer than four for women), moderate drinkers (average of seven to 14 drinks per week for men and four to seven for women) and heavy drinks (average of more than 14 drinks per week for men and more than seven for women).

At baseline, 38.1% of the study population reported as abstainers (mean age, 59.3 years; 69.4% women), 53.8% as light drinkers (mean age, 58.6 years; 53.7% women), 6.3% as moderate drinkers (mean age, 59.6 years; 35.9% women) and 1.7% as heavy drinkers (mean age, 60.5 years; 52.4% women). The intervention and education groups included the same makeup of participants by alcohol consumption, and levels of alcohol consumption did not change significantly during the study in any of the groups regardless of receiving intervention or education, according to the researchers.

Weight loss in the participants who received intervention was not significantly different at 1 year in any of the groups. Abstainers lost an average of 8.9% of initial weight, compared with 8.9% for light drinkers, 9.7% for moderate drinkers and 9.1% for heavy drinkers in that time. However, weight loss was better in the abstaining group after 4 years compared with all participants who drank alcohol during the study period (P = .003). Abstainers lost 5.1% of initial weight on average, compared with 4.2% for consistent light drinkers, 3.8% for inconsistent drinkers, 3.7% for moderate drinkers and 2.4% for heavy drinkers. In addition, abstainers were much more likely to reach at least 10% weight loss (27.5%) than inconsistent drinkers (22.6%), light drinkers (22.9%), moderate drinkers (16%) and heavy drinkers (4.8%; P = .002).

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In the education group, the researchers noted that at year 4, there was no significant difference in weight loss between the abstainer (1.5%), inconsistent drinker (0.9%), light drinker (1.5%), moderate drinker (1.3%) and heavy drinker (0.8%) groups.

“These results indicate that abstaining from alcohol offers some modest benefits for long-term weight control,” the researchers wrote. “However, the clinical significance of this difference is uncertain, and results should be taken in context of the potential (though controversial) benefits of light to moderate alcohol consumption.” – by Phil Neuffer

Disclosures: Chao reports she received funding from Shire Pharmaceuticals. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.

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