The science of the beer belly

Is your beer belly really caused by drinking too many pints? And what are the health implications of carrying extra weight around your middle? We separate the fact from the fiction.

The beer belly is a common sight in the UK, with many men in particular sporting an expanding midriff into middle and old age. Eating more calories than you burn off will cause you to gain weight – but what in particular causes men to pile on the pounds in such a specific way?

The causes of a beer belly

Too many calories from any source can lead to increased belly fat, but many people who eat healthily and exercise regularly can be still caught out by the calorific cost of heavy drinking sessions. Alcohol calories are easy to overdo without realising it – with 150 calories in a single 4% beer it doesn’t take long to drink the energy equivalent of an extra meal1.

There are lots of associated reasons why drinking lots of beer can give you a bigger belly. Alcohol can increase your appetite and make you more likely to cave in to a greasy post-pub takeaway. You also need to factor in that while you’re drinking your liver stops burning fat in order to break down alcohol.

Your body stores fat in different ways depending on your age, sex and hormones. Women generally have more subcutaneous fat which is deposited just beneath the skin in the arms, thighs and buttocks. Men usually have less subcutaneous fat and instead the extra weight is carried in the belly. As you get older, your calorie needs go down and it gets harder to keep extra weight off. At the same time your hormone levels decline which causes this extra fat to shift to your waist2.

The problem with a beer belly

New research suggests that carrying extra weight around your middle presents a greater health risk than just being obese. If you have a healthy BMI but carry fat around your waist – known as central obesity - you have a greater chance of cardiovascular issues than if you are overweight or obese but have a normal fat distribution. Central obesity is also linked to an overall higher mortality risk3. In fact, adults of a healthy weight who carry weight in their stomach have double the mortality risk compared to overweight or obese people with normal fat distribution4.

The fat around your waist is more dangerous than fat deposited in the legs or buttocks because it is an indicator of having too much fat inside the abdomen, or visceral fat. This can cause inflammation to the internal organs which would put you at a higher risk of developing a chronic condition

Am I at risk?

For men, a waistline that exceeds 40 inches can be associated with an increased risk of heart disease and increased overall mortality risk. The figure for women is 35 inches2. You can also calculate your waist-to-hip ratio for a more precise measure of your fat distribution. To do this, measure your hips and waist and divide the waist number by the hip number. A waist-to-hip ratio of 1.0 or higher is an indication that you are carrying too much fat in your belly. Women should aim for a waist-to-hip ratio lower than 0.854.  However, bear in mind that these are general guidelines and the risk level varies from person to person.

Losing a beer belly

There is no magic formula for trimming excess fat from your belly. A combination of a good diet and exercise is the only way to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight long term. However, drinking less beer is definitely a good place to start and reducing your alcohol consumption improves your health in many other ways too.

Eat a healthy, filling meal before you start drinking to help you resist the temptation of a high-calorie snack later in the evening. You could also consider opting for low-calorie beers and alternating between pints and other non-alcoholic drinks. Alternatively weight loss surgery can be considered in certain circumstances to help lose the pounds and achieve a healthy weight.

If you would like professional advice on how to lose weight through following a better diet, why not try a dietary consultation. We can assess how healthy your diet is and make suggestions for how to improve it. 

To find out more call us on 0800 101 0337 or make an online enquiry.

Sources

1https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/appearance/how-can-i-beat-my-beer-belly
2http://www.webmd.com/diet/the-truth-about-beer-and-your-belly?page=2

3http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/618104/Experts-warn-beer-belly-deadlier-obesity
4http://www.nhs.uk/news/2015/11November/Pages/A-normal-body-mass-index-with-a-big-belly-deadlier-than-obesity.aspx




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