A lifetime of heavy drinking could widen your waistline

LONDON: New UK research has found that heavy drinking throughout life could add inches to your waistline by middle age, not to mention more serious consequences such as increasing the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

Carried out by researchers at University College London (UCL), the new study looked at 4,820 older adults aged between 59 and 83 years with an average age of 69.

The participants were surveyed on their hazardous drinking and binge drinking habits for each decade of their life using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test for Consumption (AUDIT-C).

It consists of just three questions and assesses how often you drink, how much you drink and how often you binge drink, which is defined as having six or more drinks. A hazardous drinker would have three or four drinks, four or more times a week.

Based on their answers, the participants were then classified into groups; never hazardous drinker, former early hazardous drinker (defined as stopping before age 50), former later hazardous drinker (stopping after age 50), current hazardous drinker and consistent hazardous drinker (hazardous drinker at each decade of life).

The findings, published in the journal Addiction, showed that more than half of the participants (56 percent) had been heavy drinkers at some point in their life. In addition, 21 percent were current hazardous drinkers and 5 percent were consistent hazardous drinkers.

Current and consistent heavy drinkers were also mainly male, mainly white, and more likely to be in senior level jobs.

Moreover, after taking into account other lifestyle factors, the former later hazardous drinkers and the current and consistent hazardous drinkers had significantly higher systolic blood pressure and poorer liver function than never hazardous drinkers.

Former later hazardous drinkers also had around two times higher risk of non-cardiovascular disease mortality compared with never hazardous drinkers, and current hazardous drinkers also had three times greater risk of stroke.

In addition to the increased risk of various health conditions, lifetime hazardous drinkers also carried more weight and had significantly larger waist circumferences than never hazardous drinkers.

Former later hazardous drinkers, current hazardous drinkers and consistent hazardous drinkers had a waist circumference that was 1.88 cm, 2.44 cm and 3.85 cm larger than never hazardous drinkers respectively, and even former early hazardous drinkers had a waist circumference that was 1.17 cm larger, on average.

However, the researchers added that stopping drinking heavily before age 50 would still be beneficial for overall health.

Dr Linda Ng Fat, first author on the study, said, “Alcohol misuse, despite the common perception of young people binge drinking, is common among older adults, with alcohol-related hospital admissions in England being the highest among adults aged over 50.”

“Previous studies have focused on single snapshots of consumption, which has the potential to mask the cumulative effects of drinking. This study raises awareness of the effect of alcohol consumption over the life-course.”