Study links 180,000 deaths each year to sugary drinks

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
sugary drinks, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, death
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According to a new study, the health impact of sugary drinks is devastating. Harvard researchers have reported that consumption of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages may contribute to 180,000 deaths a year worldwide, including 25,000 deaths a year in the United States. The researchers presented their findings on March 10 at the American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans.

The researchers note that earlier studies have reported that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer; however, their new study provides an estimate just how great the problem is. They found that the largest number of deaths were due to complications from type 2 diabetes. They also found that deaths varied by nation. Among the 15 most populated nations, Mexico had the highest rate of death linked to sugary beverages at 318 yearly deaths per million adults, and Japan had the lowest at 10 yearly deaths per million adults.

“Our findings should push policy makers world-wide to make effective policies to reduce consumption of sugary beverages, such as taxation, mass-media campaigns, and reducing availability of these drinks,” noted study researcher Gitanjali M. Singh, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. Despite that assertion, some healthcare experts have cautioned that the study found only an association, and cannot prove that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption caused these deaths. They note that these beverages are often just part of a bad diet that contributes to poor health.

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The study analyzed data from 114 nations; the investigators reviewed dietary surveys to assess sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, as well the number of deaths from certain diseases. The researchers accessed data from earlier studies to estimate the effect of sugary drink consumption on weight gain, and, in turn, the effect of weight gain on the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

The investigators found that, overall, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was linked to 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 44,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases and 6,000 deaths from cancer. In 2010, of nine world regions, Latin America/Caribbean had the most diabetes deaths at 38,000, and East/Central Eurasia had the most cardiovascular deaths at 11,000.

Not surprisingly, the American Beverage Association refuted the findings. In a statement, the ABA said, “The researchers make a huge leap when they take beverage intake calculations from around the globe and allege that those beverages are the cause of deaths which the authors themselves acknowledge are due to chronic disease.” The American Heart Association recommends adults consume no more than 450 calories per week from sugar-sweetened beverages, based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

Take home message:
Being overweight or obese definitely increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and the condition can result in a host of health problems; thus, the study’s findings are not surprising. As many healthcare experts note, excess sugar consumption is just one component of an unhealthy diet and many individuals who regularly consume sugary beverages make other poor dietary choices as well. The study once again points out the significant health impact of poor lifestyle choices.

Reference: American Heart Association

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