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Sugar in beverages boosts heart disease and healthcare costs

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Eliminating sugar sweetened beverages could save millions in healthcare spending and curb heart disease according to a new computational model. Increased consumption of beverages containing sugar is implicated for rising healthcare costs and increased rates of heart disease in the past decade.

The American Heart Association tells us that increased consumption of sugar sweetened beverages could be the culprit for increased rates of heart disease as well as health care spending. Since 2000, intake of sugar sweetened beverages has increased, correlating with more cases of heart disease and higher healthcare costs.

The findings, reported at the American Heart Association’s 50th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, show that sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened fruit beverages could be a major contributor to obesity rates, diabetes and heart disease.

Using an established computer model called the Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) Policy Model, researchers found that sweetened beverage may be responsible for 130,000 new cases of diabetes, and 14,000 new cases of coronary heart disease (CHD) between 1990 and 2000.

Increased consumption of sugar in juices, soft drinks and sports drinks may also have contributed to 50,000 life years of coronary artery disease over the last decade.

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Litsa Lambrakos, M.D., study lead investigator and internal medicine resident at the University of California–San Francisco says, “The CHD model allows us to incorporate data from other studies that demonstrate an association between daily consumption of sugared beverages and diabetes risk; we can then translate this information into estimates of the current diabetes and cardiovascular disease that can be attributed to the rise in consumption of these drinks.”

The computer model estimates 300 to 550 million U.S. dollars spent from 2000-2010 from disease caused by drinking sugar sweetened beverages, at a loss of 21,000 life-years. The estimate does not include the cost of care associated with diabetes alone, and is likely an underestimate.

Imposing a one percent sales tax on sugary drinks could cut consumption by ten percent say health care policy experts.

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study and associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco says,
“If such a tax could curb the consumption of these drinks, the health benefits could be dramatic." The message the authors want to convey is that drinking sugar laden beverages leads to poor health and contributes to increased healthcare spending.

Robert H. Eckel, M.D., past president of the American Heart Association, and professor of medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus of the University of Colorado Denver says, "The American Heart Association recommends a dietary pattern that is rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat or fat free dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish."

Cutting out sugar sweetened beverages could help curb heart disease, diabetes, and reduce healthcare costs according to the study findings. The authors say it is important to make sure nutritious foods are not being replaced by sugar sweetened beverages that can only lead to poor health outcomes.

AHA News Release