New research has quantified the unhealthy effects of sugary drinks, by linking consumption of the beverages to the death deaths of as many as 184,000 people each year. Following on from a recent study indicating alarming obesity levels in the US, the new research provides further evidence that people need to start watching what they eat (and drink) to avoid serious risks to their health.
"Many countries in the world have a significant number of deaths occurring from a single dietary factor, sugar-sweetened beverages," said Dariush Mozaffarian, the senior author of the study. "It should be a global priority to substantially reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the diet".
The researchers based their estimates on data sourced from 62 dietary surveys conducted between 1980 and 2010 involving over 600,000 participants. Their analysis of consumption levels of beverages in 187 countries, combined with the findings on the harm of sweetened beverages from other academic studies, led them to calculate that 184,000 deaths in 2010 from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer were attributable to the impact of sweet beverages.
So what kind of sugary drinks do you need to look out for? In the study, sugar-sweetened beverages were defined to include sugar-sweetened sodas, fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks, sweetened iced teas and sugary home-made drinks containing a minimum of 210 kilojoules per 235ml serve. While 100 percent fruit juice wasn't included in the analysis, it's worth pointing out that it also has a pretty high energy count.
The study, conducted by researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, broke down 2010's sugar-related deaths linked to beverage consumption as follows: 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 45,000 from cardiovascular disease, and 6,450 deaths from cancer.
The research, published this week in Circulation, indicates that the risk of sugary drinks varies greatly between different countries due to differing consumption levels. The outliers are Japan, where it's estimated sweet beverages were responsible in 2010 for less than 1 percent of deaths in people aged over 65, and Mexico, where 24,000 deaths in total were linked to sugary drinks in the same year.
The death toll is highest in countries with low or middle incomes, with nations in the Caribbean and Latin America accounting for more than three quarters of the estimated beverage-related deaths each year. Also particularly at risk are young adults, who are more likely to develop chronic diseases due to their over-consumption of sweet beverages.
"The health impact of sugar-sweetened beverage intake on the young is important because younger adults form a large sector of the workforce in many countries, so the economic impact of sugar-sweetened beverage-related deaths and disability in this age group can be significant," said Gitanjali Singh, the study's lead author.
"It also raises concerns about the future. If these young people continue to consume high levels as they age, the effects of high consumption will be compounded by the effects of ageing, leading to even higher death and disability rates from heart disease and diabetes than we are seeing now".