Drinking Alcohol Linked to Unhealthy Diet

Study Shows People Who Drink Alcohol Less Likely to Eat Whole Grains and Fruit

By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

March 30, 2010 -- A federal study shows that men and women who drink alcohol are less likely to eat whole grains and fruit and to drink milk, and they are more likely to eat unhealthy foods high in fat and sugar.

Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Cancer Institute, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture interviewed 8,155 men and 7,715 women in the U.S. about their drinking and dietary habits. Their findings are reported in the April 2010 issue of Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

"Heavy drinking and dietary factors have independently been associated with cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other chronic health problems," NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth R. Warren, PhD, says in a news release "This finding raises questions about whether the combination of alcohol misuse and poor diet might interact to further increase health risks."

Alcohol and Poor Diet

Overall, the study results show that among current drinkers for both sexes, as alcohol use increased, healthy eating scores decreased. Eating fruit decreased and calorie intake increased in both men and women who drink alcohol. Eating whole grains and drinking milk decreased significantly among male alcohol drinkers.

Researchers note that both diet and drinking alcohol are lifestyle behaviors that can be modified in order to reduce the risk of disease and disease-related deaths.

The findings are based on data collected for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a large, ongoing survey of the U.S. population that is being conducted by the CDC. This data were collected between 1999 and 2006. Most of the study participants were non-Hispanic whites, had at least a high school education, did not smoke, and had a mean body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher, indicating that they were either overweight or obese.

The researchers ranked participants' alcohol drinking status as either never, former, or current drinkers. In this study, 76% of men and 65% of women were current drinkers. Researchers also factored in the participants' Healthy Eating Index scores, which measured how closely people followed federal dietary guidelines. The Health Eating Index scores were based on the participants' memory of what they had eaten in the past 24 hours.

The researchers note that a 24-hour recall of individual diets does not reflect a person's overall eating habits, but it does provide a snapshot of a person's dietary preferences. Moderate alcohol drinking is defined by the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men.

Study researcher Rosalind A. Breslow, PhD, an epidemiologist in NIAAA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research, says in a news release, "Our findings underscore the importance of moderation for individuals who choose to consume alcoholic beverages, and a greater awareness of healthy food choices among such individuals."

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SOURCES: Breslow, R. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, April 2010; vol 110: pp 551-562.

News release, National Institutes of Health.

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