Heavy drinking into older age could add 4 cm to waistline, increase stroke risk

In a new study, researchers found more than half of drinkers aged 59 and over have been heavy drinkers and this is linked to a much larger waistline and increased stroke risk.

The research was conducted by a UCL team.

The study examined the association between heavy drinking over a lifetime and a range of health indicators including cardiovascular disease.

The researchers used data from the Whitehall II cohort, which collected information from UK civil servants, aged 34-56 years at study outset, from 1985-88.

The final sample for this study was made up of 4,820 older adults, aged between 59 and 83 years. The mean (average) age was 69, and 75% were male.

The team found that heavy alcohol consumption over a lifetime is associated with higher blood pressure, poorer liver function, increased stroke risk, larger waist circumferences and body mass index (BMI) in later life, even if people stop drinking heavily before age 50.

Lifetime hazardous drinkers had a much larger waist circumference and BMI than never hazardous drinkers, with the magnitude increasing with more current and consistent hazardous drinking.

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

However, stopping heavy drinking at any point in life is likely to be beneficial for overall health.

The team says 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.

A heavy drinker was identified using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test for Consumption (AUDIT-C), a standard screening tool for GPs.

To provide an example a person who has three or four drinks, four or more times a week, would score the positive as a hazardous drinker.

The study suggests that the longer adults engage in heavy drinking the larger their waistline in older age.

That is why it is beneficial, along with other health benefits, that adults reduce heavy drinking earlier rather than later.

The lead author of the study is Dr. Linda Ng Fat (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care).

The study is published in Addiction.

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