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A study published Monday in the journal, The Archives of Internal Medicine, shows that women who drink moderately gain less weight they are middle-aged.  I first stumbled across mention of this yesterday on the BBC news website in this article, Women Who Drink Wine ‘Likely to Gain Less Weight’.  Then I ran into it again today on the front page of the LA Times website in this article, Women Who Drink Moderately Tend to Gain Less Weight in Midlife.  Being a moderately drinking woman myself, I’ve decided to delve further into this supposed new, exciting, scientific discovery!

When I first read these two news articles I thought, why the heck would someone do a study on alcohol decreasing weight gain?  What’s the point?  It can’t be directly related, can it?  What the news failed to explain is why the study was conducted in the first place.  Since obesity is increasing becoming a problem in the US, the study’s authors wanted to see if drinking alcoholic beverages contributed to weight gain (at least this is what I gather from the journal article they wrote – I haven’t asked them).  Imagine their surprise to see that moderate drinking actually may lead to weight loss!

While this may be a case of correlation not equaling causation, it’s pretty interesting that a moderate drinking lifestyle may contribute to a more healthy weight.  Counterintuitive huh?  As the news articles mention, it could be that other factors, such as less snacking by drinkers, could lead to this finding.

However there is also the question of whether the leaner, lush-er women are actually healthier than their teetotaler contemporaries – I think this drawback could have been emphasized more in the news articles.  The study used Body Mass Index (or BMI) to compare women.  There is some controversy of whether BMI is a good predictor of healthy weight, especially for people who fall between a “healthy” BMI score of <25 and an obese score of 30 or more.  Further, the study mentions that drinking was also correlated with more smoking and a less healthy diet (although aslo more physical activity).  The authors say they adjusted for factors like these and the results didn’t change… but they didn’t show the data, and who knows how well these modeling things work, I’d say it’s still murky territory (any statisticians out there with a different opinion?  Maybe I should issue a disclaimer here, I dropped stats when double integrals appeared that required MATLAB to solve).  Finally, not enough heavy drinkers were evaluated to see how heavy drinking could impact body weight and other studies that the authors cite indicate it may lead to weight gain.

The two news articles did do a good job pointing out that this study does not show that drinking causes weight loss but I think they missed a key point about the importance of this study, and then didn’t place enough emphasis on the drawbacks (I almost always think there isn’t enough emphasis on the drawbacks – people need to understand that science is not infallible – although for some specific fields people need to realize that after extensive rigorous testing science does reveal truth – it gets so messy when politics and religion get mixed up with science, but that is fodder for another discussion).