Most people think that beer causes a beer belly despite studies that show mixed conclusions. There are even studies that show beer to be a negative factor in abdominal obesity (Halkjaer et al., 2006). There is no doubt that abdominal obesity is one of the leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It is important to understand the true causes and not just blame beer, or any other food without proper study.
Does beer cause a beer belly?
That depends on your definition of beer belly. A big study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Schutze , Schulz , Steffen , Bergmann , Kroke , Lissner & Boeing, 2009) concludes that beer does not cause a beer belly. It is important to note that the study did correlate beer consumption with an increase in waist circumference in men, but that was related to overall weight gain. They also conclude that there is no associated beer belly risk for women who are beer consumers and tea-totalers. Men who drank around 32 ounces of beer daily had a 17% higher risk of waist circumference gain than those who drank up to 8 ounces of beer daily. The study also showed that men who abstained from beer drinking showed a similar risk for waist circumference gain as the heavy drinkers, and this was attributed to lifestyle and other risks. The authors also found that former beer drinkers had a similar risk for developing a beer belly as their former drinking buddies.
Ethanol could be the real issue
This study was extremely well thought out and concludes that although beer (and all ethanol containing beverages), can contribute to weight gain. Again, there is no evidence that beer causes a beer belly, but rather contributes to overall waist and hip circumference increases. They also point out that wine would have the same effect as beer, but they claim that wine is not drunk in as large amounts as beer (told you beer was better!). Ethanol was also thought to be a leading contributor to the increase in both hip and waist size, but the study didn't have the data to investigate this. If you are interested there was a study done by (Klesges et al., 1994; Jequier, 1999; McCarty, 1999) that discusses the questionable role of ethanol to produce energy in contrast to carbohydrates. This could be a reason that ethanol is converted to fat and not used as a primary source of energy for the body. There is also research suggesting that a glandular activation is a problem as there is research showing increases in abdominal fat due to ethanol (Bjorntorp,2001).
Bjorntorp P (2001). Do stress reactions cause abdominal obesity and comorbidities? Obes Rev, 2, 73–86. Halkjaer J, Tjonneland A, Thomsen BL, Overvad K, Sorensen TI (2006). Intake of macronutrients as predictors of 5-y changes in waist circumference. Am J Clin Nutr, 84, 789–797. Klesges RC, Mealer CZ, Klesges LM (1994). Effects of alcohol intake on resting energy expenditure in young women social drinkers. Am J Clin Nutr, 59, 805–809. McCarty MF (1999). The alcohol paradox. Am J Clin Nutr, 70, 940–942. Schutze , M., Schulz , M., Steffen , A., Bergmann , M., Kroke , A., Lissner , L., & Boeing, H. (2009). Beer consumption and the ‘beer belly’: scientific basis or common belief?. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63, 1143-1149.