Sugared Drinks Tied to 180,000 Deaths Worldwide Each Year

Sugary drinks and sodas may be associated with about 180,000 deaths a year worldwide, including 25,000 in the U.S., by exacerbating conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, a study found.

The beverages raised deaths worldwide from diabetes by 133,000, from cardiovascular disease by 44,000 and from cancer by 6,000, according to the study presented today at a meeting of the American Heart Association in New Orleans.

“Sugary drinks are high in calories and sugar and low in nutrients, so drinking these beverages does not make you feel full and you continue to eat as normal,” Gitanjali Singh, the co-author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said in an e-mail. “These extra calories contribute to weight gain, which in turn contributes to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

Policy makers, particularly in New York City, have debated ways to limit access and consumption of the drinks, including sodas, sugared fruit drinks, ice teas and sports drinks. Their goal is to cut the rise of obesity and its associated health-care costs. In the U.S., 36 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought to ban sale of the drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. A state judge struck down the ban on March 11. The city is appealing the ruling. Bloomberg is the majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.

Big Soda

Coca-Cola Co. is the world’s biggest maker of carbonated beverages, followed by PepsiCo Inc. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Coca-Cola and Pepsi also dominate the market for sports drinks, along with closely held Red Bull GmbH.

The American Beverage Association, which represents the industry, harshly criticized the study.

“This abstract, which is not peer-reviewed nor published in a way where its methodology can be fully evaluated, is more about sensationalism than science,” the group said today in a written statement. “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.”

In the study, the researchers compared consumption of sugary drinks with rates of obesity. They then compared the effect of increased obesity rates on the levels of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Higher Consumption

Latin America had the most diabetes deaths related to sugary drinks, according to the study. Mexico, where the researchers said the consumption of sugared drinks is higher than almost anywhere in the world, had the highest associated death rate, with 318 deaths out of every 1 million adults linked to the volume of sugared drinks they consumed, according to the study. Eastern and Central Eurasia had the highest number of associated deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the biggest source of calories in the U.S. diet, said Rachel K. Johnson, a professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Vermont. Those calories don’t act like most other foods, Johnson said in a video accompanying the study.

“One of the problems of sugar-sweetened beverages is that we don’t seem to compensate as well for the calories as we do for solid foods,” Johnson said. “In other words, when we consume sugar-sweetened beverages we don’t reduce the amount of food we consume.”

Johnson cautioned the study didn’t prove cause and effect, just that there was an association between sugared-drink intake and death rates.

Singh, the study co-author, said that taxing sugary drinks in the same way as cigarettes, or limiting advertising or access, may help reduce usage.

“Our study shows that tens of thousands of deaths worldwide are caused by drinking sugary beverages and this should impel policy makers to make strong policies to reduce consumption of sugary beverages,” Singh said.

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