Everywhere we turn, the news is packed with stories about the nation’s obesity epidemic. But one little-discussed fact about our daily calorie count is that Americans consume an average of 100 calories each day from alcohol, according to new numbers from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
The center, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that on a daily basis, about 33 % of men and 18% of women consume alcohol calories daily. Men, who drink more than women, account for 150 daily calories, on average. Women consume a little over 50 calories in the form of alcohol, or roughly half a glass of wine. Predictably, the hardest-drinking cohort was men aged 20-39, who accounted for about 175 calories on daily average.
That may not sound like much—and it is generally within the normal moderation guidelines of one drink per day for women and two drinks for men. However, among members of the study group, about one in five men, and 6% of the women, consumed more than 300 alcohol calories daily—three drinks or more. Considering that the average daily per capita calorie consumption was about 2,500 calories in 2008, according to USDA estimates, this category of drinker can easily end up downing 15% or more of the daily caloric intake in the form of alcohol. The report notes that government dietary guidelines for “solid fats and added sugars”—the broad category into which alcohol falls—should represent “no more than 5%-15% of calories,” no matter what the overall level of calorie intake.
“A lot of people don’t think about the calories in the alcoholic beverages,” Cynthia Ogden, one of the researchers, told USA Today. “It’s not a diet soda.” Even a shooter of hard liquor, hold the mixer, will run 50-90 calories. A 12-oz Coke and a 12-oz beer both contain about 150 calories. “We’ve been focusing on sugar-sweetened beverages. This is something new,” said Ogden in an AP article, prompting the unnamed AP writer to ask: “Should New York officials now start cracking down on tall-boy beers and monster margaritas?”
But the Distilled Spirits Council, the lobbying group for hard liquor, saw the silver lining in the research: “The overwhelming majority of adults drink moderately.”
Nonetheless, nutrition policy director Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told AP she was disappointed that the Obama administration plans to exempt alcoholic drinks from upcoming federal rules mandating calorie labeling on restaurant menus. Customers will be able to see the number of calories in a flavored ice tea drink, but not the calorie count for a Long Island Iced Tea, with easily four times as many calories.
The NCHS Data Brief also found that “no significant differences were observed in average calories per day from alcoholic beverages consumed by non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic persons.” In addition, those in the highest income category drank more than those whose income was at or below the poverty line. Men preferred beer, and women preferred wine.
The study was based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2007-2010. Researchers collected data through in-home interviews and at a mobile examination center. The researchers oversampled population subgroups to obtain reliable estimates of nutritional measures in those cohorts.