Sugary beverages substantially increase the risk of premature death
A new study led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has linked greater consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) to a higher risk of premature death from conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The researchers also found that this risk was lowered by replacing one sugary beverage per day with an artificially sweetened beverage (ASB). On the other hand, the daily consumption of four or more ASBs was linked to a higher rate of mortality for women.
Study lead author Vasanti Malik is a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition. “Our results provide further support to limit intake of SSBs and to replace them with other beverages, preferably water, to improve overall health and longevity,” said Malik.
In the United States, SSBs such as soft drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks are the single largest source of added sugar. Although the rate of SSB consumption has been steadily declining for the last decade, this rate has recently increased among American adults.
Sugary beverages were previously linked to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, yet few studies have investigated the potential mortality risk associated with SSBs.
The current analysis was focused on data from more than 80,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study and nearly 38,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The participants in these studies answered questions about their lifestyle and health status every two years.
The researchers found that the more SSBs an individual consumed, the more his or her risk of early death from any cause increased. For example, drinking two or more sugary beverages per day was associated with a 21-percent greater chance of premature death.
In particular, SSB consumption raised the risk of a premature death from cardiovascular disease. Individuals who drank two or more servings per day had a 31-percent higher risk, and each additional serving boosted this risk by ten percent. Furthermore, the effect was found to be much stronger among women compared to men.
“These findings are consistent with the known adverse effects of high sugar intake on metabolic risk factors and the strong evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, itself a major risk factor for premature death,” said Professor Walter Willett.
“The results also provide further support for policies to limit marketing of sugary beverages to children and adolescents and for implementing soda taxes because the current price of sugary beverages does not include the high costs of treating the consequences.”
The study is published in the journal Circulation.