BMI, Gender Affect Young Adults’ Alcohol Consumption

Posted on October 17th, 2014
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

People who consume alcohol excessively in episodes of binge drinking or regularly maintain a pattern of heavy drinking have clearly increased risks for a range of alcohol-related problems, including potentially fatal accidents and alcohol use disorder (diagnosable alcohol abuse/alcoholism). In a study published in September 2014 in the International Journal of Drug Policy, researchers from two U.S. universities examined the connection that body fat measurements called BMI scores have to the amount of alcohol typically consumed by young men, as well as to the amount of alcohol typically consumed by young women.

Heavy Drinking and Binge Drinking

Heavy drinking gets its name because participants consume alcohol in heavy amounts (i.e., amounts in excess of the recommended guidelines for moderate intake) on a daily basis and/or on a weekly basis. Men must consume at least five drinks a day or 15 drinks a week to qualify as heavy drinkers. Women must consume at least four drinks a day or eight drinks a week. A pattern of alcohol intake that includes at least one daily or weekly instance of excessive consumption per month substantially increases the odds that any given person will ultimately develop diagnosable alcohol use disorder. The odds for such a diagnosis go up as the number of heavy drinking episodes rises.

Binge drinking gets its name because participants go on episodic drinking binges that result in a legally defined state of drunkenness in a couple of hours or less. About 17 percent of American adults binge drink an average of once a week, according to figures compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority (92 percent) of adults who binge drink at least once a month also qualify as heavy drinkers. In addition to heightened risks for alcohol use disorder, alcohol bingers have increased exposure to damaging outcomes that include car accidents, alcohol poisoning and various forms of physical and sexual assault.

BMI Measurements

BMI is body mass index, a term used to describe a fairly simple testing procedure that uses your body weight and height as key components of a formula designed to measure your body fat levels. A person with an unusually low BMI score belongs to a category designated as “underweight,” while a person with the expected amount of body fat for his or her weight and height belongs to a BMI category designated as “normal.” There are two BMI categories for people who have too much body fat in relation to their weight and height: “overweight” and “obese.” Doctors also sometimes differentiate between obese individuals and heavily or “morbidly” obese individuals. Statistically speaking, an overweight or obese BMI score increases your odds of developing a range of serious health problems, including heart disease, hypertension and the acquired form of diabetes known as type 2 diabetes.

Impact on Alcohol Consumption

In the study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, researchers from Iowa State University and Cornell University used an examination of a group of college students age 21 or older to explore the possible connection between BMI levels, gender and the amount of alcohol consumed on a regular basis. All of the students involved in the project supplied estimates of their alcohol intake levels; the researchers compared these reports with BMI results for each individual.

The researchers concluded that the men enrolled in the study had higher baseline rates of alcohol consumption than the women enrolled in the study, regardless of whether they had underweight, normal, overweight or obese classifications in BMI testing. Within the male group of participants, the average level of alcohol intake commonly rose along with the BMI level; the same fact held true within the female group of participants. However, compared to the men participating in the study, the women had a tendency to consume larger amounts of alcohol at each higher body fat level.

As a result of their findings, the study’s authors believe that there is a “two-way” connection between young adults’ body fat levels and baseline rates of alcohol consumption. They also believe that public health efforts to reduce alcohol intake may improve substantially if they take this connection into account. Such a reconfiguring of anti-drinking campaigns may be especially helpful for men and women with higher BMI scores, since they tend to consume more alcohol than their peers with lower scores.

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