Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and sports drinks are to blame for 184,000 deaths each year, according to a global analysis recently published in the medical journal Circulation.
It’s no secret that sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to growing rates of obesity, diabetes and even heart disease. Indulging in too many sodas, fruit drinks or energy drinks can lead to weight gain and take a toll on health over time. But many don’t recognize the long-term impact of too many sugar-sweetened beverages on overall health.
To open our eyes to this issue, researchers analyzed 62 dietary surveys conducted over the past thirty years. Through these surveys, nearly 612,000 individuals from 51 countries provided information about their diet, lifestyle choices and overall health. Researchers then used data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors 2010 Study to estimate the impact of sugary beverages on death and disability rates worldwide.
Overall, researchers found that sugar-sweetened beverages are to blame for 184,000 deaths each year. Of these deaths, 72% were from diabetes, 25% were from heart disease and 3% were from cancer. Deaths related to sugar-sweetened beverages were highest among younger adults between 20 and 44 years of age.
However, death rates differed significantly by country. The majority of deaths occurred in middle- and high-income countries. Among countries with large populations, Mexico had the highest number of deaths from sugar-sweetened beverages. More than 12% of all deaths in Mexico were due to the consumption of sugary drinks; these beverages were to blame for 30% of deaths in Mexicans under 45 years old. Among the highest populated countries, the United States ranked second in sugar-sweetened beverage related deaths. Japan had the lowest death toll, with less than 1% of deaths related to sugary beverage consumption.
Of course, this study has its limitations. Survey studies are prone to some error, and this analysis did not include all countries, especially those in South Asia and certain parts of Africa. However, findings are intended to raise awareness of the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on health.
There’s no question that overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can lead to chronic disease and even death. Authors explain that access to poor drinking water in certain areas like Latin America is to blame for higher consumption of sugary beverages, since they come pre-packaged and are affordable. Certain countries like Mexico also make homemade sugary beverages called “frescas,” which are consumed in addition to packaged drinks like sodas and juices. This helps explain why these areas tend to have the highest consumption of sugary beverages and highest rates of chronic disease. East Asia, on the other hand, has very few deaths related to sugar-sweetened beverages, as consumption is relatively low.
Ultimately, interventions are needed to educate individuals about sugar-sweetened beverages, especially in areas with high levels of consumption. As with most things, moderation is key. Sugar-sweetened beverages are safe in moderation, but it’s important to keep in mind serving size and limit regular consumption. Policies are also needed to increase access to safe drinking water in certain areas where drinking options are limited. Together, these efforts can help reduce the negative impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages on health.