This site is intended for health professionals only

Drinkers unaware that alcohol can pile on the pounds

17 April 2009

Share this article

A government survey indicates that two-fifths of people are unaware of the high calorie content of alcohol that could lead to weight gain and put them at a higher risk of serious health problems.

The average wine drinker in England now consumes around 2,000 calories from alcohol alone each month, new figures out today (17 April 2009) show. Over a year this is equivalent to 38 extra roast beef dinners or almost 184 bags of crisps.

Yet 42% of women surveyed by the government’s Know Your Limits campaign admitted they didn’t know that a glass of white wine has the same calorie content as a bag of crisps. Two large glasses of white wine, at approximately 370kcals, provide nearly a fifth of a woman’s recommended daily calorie allowance.

Similarly, 40% of men aren’t aware that a pint of lager has as many calories as a sausage roll. A beer-drinker knocking back just five pints a week would add a whopping 44,200 calories over a year, equivalent to 221 doughnuts.

In addition, calories don’t just come from the alcohol consumed. More than one in three drinkers admit they are likely to eat more than they usually would when drinking above their recommended daily limits, with 29% ordering crisps, nuts or pork scratchings to accompany their booze and many opting for a takeaway pizza, burger or kebab afterwards.

And 62% who normally eat a bowl of cereal or muesli for breakfast ditch it in favour of less healthy breakfasts to help them through their hangover. Swapping a bowl of cereal for a fry-up can add an extra 450 calories, on top of the alcohol calories consumed the night before.

“Regularly drinking more than our recommended daily limits can have a knock on effect on our health – including an expanding waistline,” said Health Minister Phil Hope.

Heather Caswell, spokesperson for the British Nutrition Foundation, added: “Most people would baulk at consuming a full glass of single cream, but wouldn’t think twice about a couple of pints. But the calorie content is similar and, over time, excess alcohol intake is likely to lead to weight gain.

“Sticking to sensible drinking habits and keeping to the recommended units will not only help keep off those extra pounds but will also help decrease your risk of serious health problems, such as some types of cancer and liver disease.”

The British Nutrition Foundation advises minimising calorie intake by eating a healthy dinner before starting drinking. The daily recommended units for men are 3-4 units of alcohol a day; women should not regularly drink more than 2–3 units a day. A pint of lager (ABV 5.2%) and a 250ml glass of wine (ABV 12%) both contain three units of alcohol.

Know Your Limits