By Rachael Rettner
Consumption of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages may contribute to hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world, mainly due to type 2 diabetes, a new study says.
The results show sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is linked to 180,000 deaths a year worldwide, including 25,000 deaths a year in the United States, the researchers say. The study is being presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association.
Of the 15 most populated countries, Mexico had the highest rate of death linked to the beverages at 318 yearly deaths per million adults, and Japan had the lowest at 10 yearly deaths per million adults.
Earlier studies show drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and the new study provides an estimate just how big this problem is, the researchers said.
"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," said study researcher Gitanjali M. Singh, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass.
However, experts cautioned the study found only an association, and cannot prove that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption caused these deaths. Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are often just part of a bad diet that contributes to poor health.
"Diets with more calories from SSBs are poorer diets overall," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. "They may also have more starch, or sodium, or trans fat, or chemicals, and almost certainly do," Katz said.
The new study included information from 114 countries, looking at dietary surveys to assess sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, as well the number of deaths from certain diseases. The researchers used information 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.
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.
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, in 2010.
Katz warned against becoming too preoccupied with any particular nutrient, as an earlier study found that excess salt intake was linked to 150,000 premature deaths worldwide. Instead, it's important to focus on overall diet, he said.
"If we improve the quality of diets, we improve both sugar intake, and salt intake and everything else, and will certainly have better health to show for it," Katz said. Cutting down on sugar-sweetened beverages, but eating more of other junk foods, could worsen health, he said.
In a statement, the American Beverage Association 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.