September 2004 -


Teen Binge Drinking Leads to Obesity by Mid-20s

Not only is teen drinking illegal-binge drinking during the teen years can lead to obesity and high blood pressure by the time these drinkers are 24 years old.

A UW study found that people who began binge drinking at age 13 and continued throughout adolescence were nearly four times as likely to be overweight or obese at age 24 compared to peers who never or rarely drank as adolescents. Teen binge drinkers were almost 3 1/2 times as likely to have high blood pressure.

Researchers defined binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion and focused on teens between the ages of 13 and 18.

Previous research has shown that teen binge drinking has a number of immediate negative consequences, including involvement in fatal or injurious automobile accidents and risky sexual behavior. But little had been known about the effects of such drinking into young adulthood.

Researchers from the UW School of Social Work found four distinct patterns of binge drinking among teenagers:

  • Chronics (3 percent), who started at age 13 and continued to binge drink between three and five times a month through age 18.
  • Escalators (4 percent), who began drinking around age 15 and their bingeing increased sharply and continuously until they were binge drinking nearly 10 times monthly by age 18.
  • Late Onsetters (23 percent), who started drinking after age 16 and averaged two bingeing episodes a month by age 18.
  • Non-Binge Drinkers (70 percent) never or rarely engaged in binge drinking between ages 13 and 18.
"Being overweight or having hypertension can be linked to future problems such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. What we are seeing are the first warning signs of more serious health problems. Young adults' history of binge drinking during the teenage years, irrespective of current levels of binge drinking, appears to have serious effects on their health by age 24," says Sabrina Oesterle, lead author of the study and a research associate in the UW's Social Development Research Group.

Published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, the study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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