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Beverages

Sugary Drinks Linked to 180,000 Deaths Annually

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Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 4:19 PM
click to enlarge Grape soda - FLICKR/STEVENDEPOLO

Now we know you were all really mad at NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg for trying to ban large-sized sodas. But the man may have had a point. Sugary beverages are linked to more than 180,000 deaths worldwide annually, according to new research presented this week at an American Heart Assn. conference.

Harvard researchers examined how often people around the globe drink sugar-sweetened beverages and how that affected their risk of death, CNN reports. They looked at over 100 national dietary surveys covering more than 60% of the world's population, and also sought evidence from studies in medical journals concerning sugary drinks and other dietary habits.

Beverages containing added sugar, such as soft drinks, fruit drinks and energy and sports beverages, tend to make people put on weight. According to the study's authors, these added pounds increase the risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers -- conditions often referred to as obesity-related diseases.

The scientists spent years looking at factors that can affect weight levels, such as couch-potatoism, physical activity levels, smoking and the consumption of all kinds of foods and drinks. This enabled them to point the finger at sugary drinks as a big culprit in obesity-related deaths.

When the researchers controlled for these other factors, they were able to determine just what percentage of deaths from diabetes, heart disease and cancer were linked to sugary drinks.

"This means about one in every 100 deaths from obesity-related diseases is caused by drinking sugary beverages," said study author Gitanjali Singh, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Among the world's 35 largest countries, Mexico had the highest death rates from sugary drinks (the average consumption there is 24 ounces per day). Bangladesh had the lowest, and the United States ranked third.

"The investigators examined changes in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and then its association with change in body fatness or BMI (body mass index), and subsequent deaths from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer," Rachel Johnson, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington and chair of the American Heart Assn.'s Nutrition Committee, told CNN. (She was not involved in the study.)

The scientists concluded that more people died from diabetes, heart disease and cancer in parts of the world where consumption of sugary drinks is high.

According to the study, Latin America and the Caribbean had the most diabetes deaths linked to sugary drinks. East and Central Eurasia had the most cardiovascular deaths.

In the United States, as in many other countries, the death rates were highest in young adults under age 45, with one in 10 obesity-related deaths associated with sugary beverages.

The American Beverage Assn. called the study a bunch of flimflammery, saying in a statement:

"This abstract, which is neither peer-reviewed nor published, is more about sensationalism than science. In no way does it show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer....The researchers make a huge leap when they illogically and wrongly 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." (But, you know, there's no link between smoking and lung cancer, either.)

The study authors disagree, saying sugar consumption has been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the main source of added sugars in the American diet, according to the American Heart Assn.

It's no fun, but maybe we should listen to Daddy Bloomberg.


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