Sugary Drinks Linked To Many Thousands Of Deaths Globally
More morbid news for sugar: Researchers calculate that sugary drinks alone are responsible for many thousands of deaths per year. And this adds to an increasing shift in the nutritional tide. Dietary fat – which was once the biggest culprit – is now getting a reprieve, as the upper limit on fat intake has just been scrapped in the new dietary guidelines. And sugar, which we always knew wasn’t great for us, is increasingly being linked not only to obesity, but to various chronic illnesses, and even to death. A new study from Tufts University uses a statistical model to estimate how many annual deaths are directly attributable to sugary beverages. And it’s a pretty big number.
The study, published in the journal Circulation, looked at data from dietary surveys in 51 countries, which included almost 612,000 people from 1980 to 2010. Sugar-sweetened sodas, fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks, sugar-sweetened iced teas, and homemade sugary drinks were included in the study; fruit juice was excluded. It also used data on sugar availability in countries across the globe, to estimate how many deaths from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer could be attributed to sugary drinks alone, in 2010. Here are the grim numbers:
- 133,000 deaths from diabetes
- 45,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease
- 6,450 deaths from cancer
That’s over 184,000 deaths total. “This is not complicated,” says study author Dariush Mozaffarian. “There are no health benefits from sugar-sweetened beverages, and the potential impact of reducing consumption is saving tens of thousands of deaths each year.”
There was a big range of how many deaths could be attributed to sugar across the globe, from just 1% in older people in Japan to 30% in Mexican adults under the age of 45. The latter corresponds to 24,000 total annual deaths in adults in Mexico. The U.S. ranked second with about 25,000 adult deaths. The vast majority – 95% – of the deaths occurred in middle- and high-income countries.
As the authors point out, the highest numbers of deaths occurred in countries where making homemade sugary drinks, like frescas, is especially common. “Among the 20 countries with the highest estimated sugar-sweetened beverage-related deaths, at least 8 were in Latin America and the Caribbean, reflecting the high intakes in that region of the world,” said lead author Gitanjali Singh.
Beyond the health considerations, the economic fallout of sugary drinks, and sugar consumption in general, may be serious. “It also raises concerns about the future,” Singh said.“If these young people continue to consume high levels as they age, the effects of high consumption will be compounded by the effects of aging, leading to even higher death and disability rates from heart disease and diabetes than we are seeing now.”
Of course, not everyone accepts the results. The American Beverage Association points out that the “study does not show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases and the authors themselves acknowledge that they are at best estimating effects of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.” They stress the many other factors that contribute to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
But as the sugar research continues, it becomes harder to justify its consumption at all. At the very least, we should limit sugar and sugary drink intake drastically – you can get healthier carbs elsewhere.