More than 180,000 deaths worldwide in 2010 were linked to a high intake of sugary drinks, a new study estimates, including 25,000 deaths in the United States.
Most deaths occurred in middle- to low-income countries, the Harvard researchers noted. The findings are surprising because this problem is often though of this as a problem only in high-income countries. These latest findings do not prove that sugary drinks kill people. They only show a correlation between high consumption and deaths from heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
Recently, a judge struck down Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial limit on large sweetened sodas and other sugary beverages, one day before the rule was to go into effect. Bloomberg said he would appeal the decision and defended his plan, which would have limited the size of sugary drinks sold at restaurants, food carts and theaters to 16 ounces.
But that’s not the only type of measure officials can take. Others could include taxing sugar-added drinks, or limiting advertising of the beverages to children. But “anti-soda” moves are a tough sell — not only because the beverage industry and many consumers resist. It’s also hard to pin ill health effects on one component of people’s diets, even if it’s a nutritionally dubious one.
Sugary beverage consumption is often paired with other unhealthy food choices or behaviors. Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, are the result of many factors, not just excess sugar intake. Therefore, everyone should be limiting added sugar — from drinks and food. We just do not need added sugar that is empty calories.
Overall, they estimate that upwards of 180,000 deaths were “attributable to” sugary drink consumption in 2010. That included more than 130,000 from diabetes, about 45,000 from heart disease and stroke, and 4,600 from various cancers.
As for sugary drink intake, young Cuban men beat the rest of the world: Men younger than 45 typically downed more than five servings per day. And in general, Latin America and the Caribbean had the most deaths linked to sugar-sweetened drinks.
It’s difficult to blame deaths on high-sugar drinks alone. But the findings highlight one important, and simple, move that people can make to improve their diets. Sodas are not the only culprit. Often, these fruit juices that people think are healthy are loaded with sugar.
One of the big concerns in the sugary-drink “war” is that many children and teenagers are downing huge amounts of liquid calories. Because this study focused on deaths from chronic diseases, it says nothing about the potential health effects on kids across the globe.