The emerging link between alcoholism risk and obesity in the United States

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010 Dec;67(12):1301-8. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.155.


Context: The prevalence of obesity has risen sharply in the United States in the past few decades. Etiologic links between obesity and substance use disorders have been hypothesized.

Objective: To determine whether familial risk of alcohol dependence predicts obesity and whether any such association became stronger between the early 1990s and early 2000s.

Design: We conducted analyses of the repeated cross-sectional National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey (1991-1992) and National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (2001-2002).

Setting: The noninstitutionalized US adult population in 1991-1992 and 2001-2002.

Participants: Individuals drawn from population-based, multistage, random samples (N = 39 312 and 39 625).

Main outcome measure: Obesity, defined as a body mass index (calculated from self-reported data as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) of 30 or higher and predicted from family history of alcoholism and/or problem drinking.

Results: In 2001-2002, women with a family history of alcoholism (defined as having a biological parent or sibling with a history of alcoholism or alcohol problems) had 49% higher odds of obesity than those without a family history (odds ratio, 1.48; 95% confidence interval, 1.36-1.61; P < .001), a highly significant increase (P < .001) from the odds ratio of 1.06 (95% confidence interval, 0.97-1.16) estimated for 1991-1992. For men in 2001-2002, the association was significant (odds ratio, 1.26; 95% confidence interval, 1.14-1.38; P < .001) but not as strong as for women. The association and the secular trend for women were robust after adjustment for covariates, including sociodemographic variables, smoking status, alcohol use, alcohol or drug dependence, and major depression. Similar trends were observed for men but did not meet statistical significance criteria after adjustment for covariates.

Conclusions: These results provide epidemiologic support for a link between familial alcoholism risk and obesity in women and possibly in men. This link has emerged in recent years and may result from an interaction between a changing food environment and predisposition to alcoholism and related disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Social Environment*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology