The increased recognition that the worldwide increase in incidence of obesity is due to a positive energy balance has lead to a focus on lifestyle choices that may contribute to excess energy intake, including the widespread belief that alcohol intake is a significant risk factor for development of obesity. This brief review examines this issue by contrasting short-term laboratory-based studies of the effects of alcohol on appetite and energy balance and longer-term epidemiological data exploring the relationship between alcohol intake and body weight. Current research clearly shows that energy consumed as alcohol is additive to that from other dietary sources, leading to short-term passive over-consumption of energy when alcohol is consumed. Indeed, alcohol consumed before or with meals tends to increase food intake, probably through enhancing the short-term rewarding effects of food. However, while these data might suggest that alcohol is a risk factor for obesity, epidemiological data suggests that moderate alcohol intake may protect against obesity, particularly in women. In contrast, higher intakes of alcohol in the absence of alcohol dependence may increase the risk of obesity, as may binge-drinking, however these effects may be secondary to personality and habitual beverage preferences.
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