Want to lose weight? Drink (Good) Beer

I just could not resist writing about this when I stumbled upon the interesting factoid about beer and obesity:  States with the highest number of craft beers per 100,000 people also have lower obesity rates (for those of you statistically inclined, the correlation rate is -0.54).  This observation comes from The Atlantic Cities website, which did a report on the increase of craft beer breweries in the United States (there are more craft breweries now than any time since 1887).  What is even more interesting was the quick set of correlations they performed, including the one I just mentioned above.

Let’s work through this relationship. Below are the maps showing US Obesity rates in 2010 (from my previous post) and the map put together by The Atlantic Cities showing the number of craft breweries per 100,000 people, for each state.

First thing to note here, is that many of the the red states on the left (indicating states with adult obesity rates greater than 30%) overlap with the light purple states on the right (indicating that there is, on average, less than 1 craft brewery in the state for every 100,000 people).  I said mostly overlap, as there a few red states (like Michigan) that are a medium-purple too, which tells us that some heavily obese states  average between 2-3 craft breweries per 100,000 people.  Second, notice that dark purple states on the right (indicating, on average 3 or more craft breweries per 100,000 people) are also yellow states on the left (indicating adult obesity rates between 20-25%): Vermont, Montana, and Oregon So now I can add drinking my loveable “Old Chub” Scottish Ale as a good substitute for running home from work once a week!

Of course, I’m having fun – because obviously, drinking beer (even yummy craft brews) does not make you thin.  As we all know (and the The Atlantic Cities website is quick to point out) correlation only shows how well two things are related – not that one causes the other.   The question now is, are there any obvious characteristics that make Vermont, Montana, and Oregon polar opposites of places like Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia, and could possibly be related to both obesity and craft breweries? 

I had two, and neither seem all that probable:  The first is mostly related to Montana, Oregon, and Vermont.  All three are what we could call ‘outdoorsy’ states, and are known for adventure tourism (like skiing, hiking, camping, etc).  So that might explain the low obesity rates – high exercise and activity. How does this relate to craft breweries?  My best guess is, with vacationing and adventure goes drinking and eating good food, and craft breweries would fair well in these states.  As far as I know, few people plan adventure-related vacations to places like Mississippi, West Virginia, or Texas (does anyone really plan a vacation to Texas?).

The second is better education, particularly in agriculture and sciences.  There is already a fairly decent correlation with overall education and decreases in obesity, and The Atlantic Cities website also showed a weak, positive correlation with craft brewery and adults with college degrees (0.32).  Ask any brewer, and he or she will tell you that making beer (or wine for that matter) is highly scientific, and requires lots of chemistry and math.  You need a population that is willing and able to use science everyday as part of its job.  The central US states do not fair well in reports on science and engineering education studies (Mississippi ranked last in all the states on the Science and Engineering Readiness Index of high school students).  So perhaps the underlying cause between craft brewery and obesity is better educational attainment.

As I said, neither are that great at explaining the correlation; if anyone has better ideas, fire away!

Finally, here are two more interesting correlations with craft breweries: Craft brewing is less likely in conservative states, with a modest negative correlation (-0.30) to 2008 John McCain votes (there was no statistically-significant association to Barack Obama votes); And craft brewing is more closely associated with higher levels of happiness and well-being (0.47).

Hurray Beer!


Here – we are all BIG family

Can't Stop Till We Get Enough

Last summer, three friends and I decided to do the Big Foot triathlon, located in beautiful Geneva Lake, Wisconsin.  After checking into our hotel, we decided we would ‘carbo-load,’ a triathlon (and marathon) race tradition, of eating pasta and other carbohydrate laden meals the night before, to give us energy for the next morning’s race.  Not knowing the area well, we stopped at an Olive Garden restaurant, located just down the road from our hotel.

As we waited for seats, one of my friends – who is allergic to wheat and gluten products – asked if there was a gluten free menu she could look at.  What we received was the food and nutrition fact sheet that US restaurants are required to provide.  I still have that fact sheet, in my office amongst books entitled Fat Land, and The Obesity Myth.  I kept it, because as we read the list looking for something my friend could eat, we were dumbfounded.  The restaurant’s two featured entrees, the stuffed rigatoni (either with chicken or sausage) contained over 1000 calories for a single serving (1050 for the chicken, and a whopping 1350 for the sausage).  This was for one item of food, and if you considered that most Olive Garden customers usually consume the free bread sticks (which was not on the fact sheet), a soft-drink (100 calories, assuming non-diet), and possibly a dessert (none of which were less than 300 calories), ordering a featured meal at the Olive Garden tipped the scale at over 1400 calories!  For perspective, health officials in the US government recommend that adult males 18 – 30 years of age consume about 2200 calories a day.  After a meal at the Olive Garden, you have less than 800 calories left for the entire day – or about one Venti Mocha and Taragon Chicken sandwich at Starbucks.

As I sat in the restaurant, consciously picking through my Ceasar Salad with Chicken (850 calories, not including the dressing), I kept reading through the information guide.  Quite frankly, one reason for the extreme calorie content of the Olive Garden’s meals is due to their portion size.  And this results in huge calories:  The average Classic Entree at Olive Garden has 1045 calories per serving.  If you thought ordering a chicken entree would be better – I mean, chicken is the lean meat! – think again.  The average is 1031 calories.  To be really healthy at the Olive Garden, order a seafood entrée: An average of 780 calories per serving (the best, calorie wise, is the Seafood Brodetto – 480 calories).

I must be fair – I am leaving out the entrees that Olive Garden labels as their healthy & low-fat fares (noted with an olive leaf), which range from 430 calories per serving (the Linguine alla marinara) to 840 calories (the Capallini Pomodoro).  But how many people come to the Olive Garden thinking, “tonight baby, I’m thinking light and low-fat.”  You go to the Olive Garden for pasta – hefty, filling, saucy, pasta.

I also noticed that it was not just the servings at the Olive Garden that were big – so were the customers.  In fact, Greg Critser, the noted science and medicine author of Fat Land, tells a story from the 1980s when an Olive Garden customer phoned Ron MaGrauder – the restaurant chain’s then president – to complain that he was too large to sit in the booth and seats at his local Olive Garden.  MaGruder responded as any responsible company president would – he order new over-sized seats so that each of the 256 Olive Garden restaurants in the United States could have three.  Customers get what they want.

And apparently, we want our food big, and our bodies big too.