Killing you softly: Study says sugary soft drinks kill 180,000 people worldwide yearly

Norman Byrd's picture

Of the 180,000 deaths worldwide attributed to sugary soft drink consumption, 25,000 were in the US -- and it still wasn't the country with the highest death rate.

A study has revealed that death be ultimately linked to a high intake of sugary soft drinks. Research presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions suggests that not only does drinking beverages with high sugar content -- sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks -- increase an individual's potential for gaining weight, but the gain of weight also leads to diseases such as diabetes, several cancers, and cardiovascular diseases that result in death. And as the rate of consumption increases, so does the death rate.

Science Daily reported this week (March 19) that the US suffered 25,000 deaths, almost one-seventh of the total number of deaths, that could be linked to sugary soft drinks in 2010 (the target year, using Global Burden of Diseases Study data), the study found. And although the number is relatively high, the US still doesn't suffer the worst death rate. That dubious distinction falls to Mexico, which suffered 318 deaths per million people.

But the study had one major failing: The research only considered adults in its findings.

Gitanjali M. Singh, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, who co-authored the study, explained: "Because we were focused on deaths due to chronic diseases, our study focused on adults. Future research should assess the amount of sugary beverage consumption in children across the world and how this affects their current and future health."

The research calculated sugary soft drink intake, broke down the data by age and sex, and studied the relationship to obesity and diabetes. This data was then studied to determine the link between obesity and diabetes to the number of deaths.

Researchers sectioned off the world into nine regions. Of those, Latin America/Caribbean (with Mexico having one of the highest consumption per capita ratios in the world) had the most diabetes-related deaths (38,000) that could be traced using the 2010 data to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

In fact, the study found that a full 78 percent of the soft drink-related deaths due to over-consumption are in the world's middle- and low-income nations.

The study also tabulated deaths by disease: 133,000 were attributed to diabetes, 44,000 to cardiovascular diseases and 6,000 to cancer.

The American Heart Association suggests that an individual take in only 450 calories or less of sugary soft drinks per week. According to WebMD, 12 oz. of regular soda can contain from between 124 to 189 calories, which means you've reached your recommended limit somewhere between two and four servings. Sports drinks contain about 94 calories on average. Energy drinks are a bit higher: 160.

The study puts into numbers what research has pointed at for years -- that increased sugar intake and obesity contribute various health risks and diseases which, if not curtailed or eliminated, can ultimately result in death.

For example, CNN reported in April 2012 on a study that showed increased soft drink consumption resulted in higher cholesterol levels, which not only are signals of increased obesity but a warning sign of potential heart disease.

On average, Americans consume about 200 calories per day via sugary soft drinks.

More and more research over time has amassed evidence pointing to sugary soft drink consumption as a culprit in obesity and other health risks. In recent years, hose same types of beverages have also been linked to diabetes risk in African-American women. And two 2010 studies indicated that the increased daily intake of soft drinks was related to a decade-long rise in diabetes and heart disease and that a high consumption of soft drinks could be a contributing factor in the development of pancreatic cancer, among the most deadly of all cancerous types.

(photo credit: Marlith, Creative Commons)

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