A recent, highly unscientific survey conducted by a British cruise site (BonVoyage.co.uk) asked more than 1,200 men who had been on a vacation abroad in the past year a single question: what things, concerning your holiday, did you worry about before last heading abroad, if any?

In order of frequency, here are men's common vacation worries:

  1. Getting rid of beer belly
  2. Missing out on sports events
  3. Saving enough money for holiday
  4. Getting ahead at work
  5. Weather abroad
  6. Leaving pets at home
  7. Putting on weight on holiday
  8. Getting along with kids-family
  9. Getting passport-visa ready
  10. Keeping the kids entertained abroad

(Oddly, getting a "champagne chin" did not make the list.)

When those respondents who admitted worrying about their "beer belly" were then asked whether they had done anything to get rid of it before their last holiday, more than half (53 percent) responded negatively while 31 percent confessed that they had tried, but failed. Presumably abstaining from beer in the weeks before vacation was much too difficult. Maybe if they had called their bellies by another name, they might have been more successful in losing weight.

Myth or Reality?

The term "beer belly" expresses the common assumption that drinking beer is the reason for an expanding waist line. In an effort to challenge that belief, researchers at the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke studied the associations between beer consumption and waist circumference (partially in relation to body weight and hip circumference change). In particular, they examined the association between beer drinking and gender. Are men, they wondered, more inclined toward a beer belly?

To investigate this question, they looked at information gathered by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Potsdam study, which tracked 7,876 men and 12,749 women. They assessed data, from eight-and-a-half years, on beer consumption and changes in waist circumference. To test the effect of beer consumption on the waist line, they made adjustments for concurrent changes in body weight and hip circumference. In addition, they studied the relationship between changes in beer consumption and changes in waist circumference.

And what did they find? Overall, among the beer drinkers, two-thirds of the women as well as the men gained weight. For the women, no correlation existed between beer drinking and waist circumference. In fact, the waist lines of moderate drinkers decreased while increasing among light drinkers. In men, though, the heaviest beer consumption was definitely associated with a significant increase in gut. Men consuming 1000 ml of beer per day (roughly four eight-ounce glasses) were at a 17-percent higher risk for a gain in their waist line compared to very light consumers. Yet, once the researcher adjusted for changes in total body weight as well as hip circumference, the effect disappeared. Any association between beer and a change in gut size was explained by an overall weight gain.

The researchers concluded that beer does not have a "site-specific effect" on the abdomen. Beer drinking will lead to weight gain in the gut, but it also leads to weight gain in the hips, the thighs, the arms... The beer belly, then, is a myth.

Source: Schütze M, Schulz M, Steffen A, et al. Beer consumption and the 'beer belly': scientific basis or common belief? European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009.