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'Joining the Dots': Individual, sociocultural and environmental links between alcohol consumption, dietary intake and body weight—A narrative review

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Mackenzie Fong, Dr Steph Scott, Dr Viviana AlbaniORCiD, Professor Ashley AdamsonORCiD, Professor Eileen KanerORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Alcohol is energy-dense, elicits weak satiety responses relative to solid food, inhibits dietary fat oxidation, and may stimulate food intake. It has, therefore, been proposed as a contributor to weight gain and obesity. The aim of this narrative review was to consolidate and critically appraise the evidence on the relationship of alcohol consumption with dietary intake and body weight, within mainstream (non-treatment) populations. Publications were identified from a PubMed key-word search using the terms ‘alcohol’, ‘food’, ‘eating’, ‘weight’, ‘body mass index’, ‘obesity’, ‘food reward’, ‘inhibition’, ‘attentional bias’, ‘appetite’, ‘culture’, ‘social’. A snowball method and citation searches were used to identify additional relevant publications. Reference lists of relevant publications were also consulted. While limited by statistical heterogeneity, pooled results of experimental studies showed a relatively robust association between acute alcohol intake and greater food and total energy intake. This appears to occur via metabolic and psychological mechanisms that have not yet been fully elucidated. Evidence on the relationship between alcohol intake and weight is equivocal. Most evidence was derived from cross-sectional survey data which does not allow for a cause-effect relationship to be established. Observational research evidence was limited by heterogeneity and methodological issues, reducing the certainty of the evidence. We found very little qualitative work regarding the social, cultural, and environmental links between concurrent alcohol intake and eating behaviours. That the evidence of alcohol intake and body weight remains uncertain despite no shortage of research over the years, indicates that more innovative research methodologies and nuanced analyses are needed to capture what is clearly a complex and dynamic relationship. Also, given synergies between ‘Big Food’ and ‘Big Alcohol’ industries, effective policy solutions are likely to overlap and a unified approach to policy change may be more effective than isolated efforts. However, joint action may not occur until stronger evidence on the relationship between alcohol intake, food intake and weight is established.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Fong M, Scott S, Albani V, Adamson A, Kaner E

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nutrients

Year: 2021

Volume: 13

Issue: 9

Online publication date: 24/08/2021

Acceptance date: 23/08/2021

ISSN (electronic): 2072-6643

Publisher: MDPI AG


DOI: 10.3390/nu13092927