Bad Chart Thursday: Beer Doesn’t Make You Fat!
Britain’s Beer Alliance sounds like my kind of superhero team, fighting the good fight against sobriety across the UK. At the mere whisper of “I’ll just have water, thanks,” our Alliance heroes don their goggles, suck in their guts, and stagger their way toward the cry for help.
In reality, there’s no giant mug of beer crashing through pub walls à la Kool-Aid Man, but the BBA does sponsor a website promoting beer, There’s a Beer for That, which includes a section of infographic charts purportedly debunking beer myths.
You know that old canard about beer having more fat than a chocolate bar? Me neither. It never even crossed my mind to compare the two. But if you are promoting beer, surveying people about a series of attributes you want to promote is a great way to create myths you can debunk solely to promote those attributes.
Just saying straight out that beer has no fat is boring and obvious. Surveying people about which has more fat, beer or a chocolate bar, on the other hand, is bound to lead to some incorrect answers, which you can then turn into a shareable meme like this one:
Or you can debunk a myth that isn’t really a myth, exactly, by pretending to misunderstand what people actually believe, which brings us to today’s bad chart:
Amazing, right? All this time, it wasn’t the beer but the calories in the beer that have led to weight gain? WHO KNEW? I’m starting my all-beer diet today!
Of course, beer doesn’t necessarily make a person fat. Depends on the person, how much they drink, their dietary and exercise habits, and so forth (not to mention how we define “fat”), which is why I say this isn’t exactly a myth, but I’m being generously pedantic. Any amount of beer is essentially excess calories in the sense that they are calories no one needs, so the belief that beer makes people fat is more of a statement about it being empty calories that will likely lead to weight gain if these calories are on top of the calories our bodies need, provided we don’t burn them off.
My favorite part of this chart, though, is the series of comparisons. They show that the calories in beer are not nearly as high as those in HALF A PIZZA. Not that I haven’t downed half a pizza in one sitting myself, but what do the calories in pizza have to do with beer? Why would anyone be choosing between the two? Plus, many people have more than one glass of beer when out drinking, but I’m guessing far fewer are going out to have a few halves of a pizza. Not to mention that unlike beer, pizza has at least some nutritional value.
On the other end of the scale, we have the tiniest half pint in the world relative to the size of the pint in the chart, and a meaningless y axis that the numbers don’t correspond to beyond being in increasing order. But I think we all know that this isn’t really intended to be a chart. It’s an advertisement thinly veiled as information. It’s a clever strategy in theory, although in practice, I’m not sure that insulting the intelligence of your audience is the best way to lure them in, although the elections in the US just might prove me wrong on that.
Which reminds me of an actually valid reason to get started on that all-beer diet . . .
But we do learn that a pint of beer contains twice as many calories as a half-pint!
(Although if we look at the coloured area, it lookas as if it actually has four times as many.)
There are some reasons why beer (or alcohol) in particular can make you fat.
Alcohol is metabolized to acetate in the liver. When the liver is doing that, it can’t do much else (depending on how much and how fast you are drinking). To metabolize acetate into ATP requires mitochondria.
Depending on how much and how fast you drank, there might not be enough mitochondria to oxidize the amount of acetate that your liver produces. So your body has to do something else with all of that acetate to get rid of it. One thing it can do is turn it into fat. When acetate is turned into fat, your body likes to do it around the viscera generating what is called “visceral fat”. That results in the classic “beer belly” body shape.
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