Sugary Drinks Adding Up Deaths

Sugar sweetened beverages account for thousands of deaths say researchers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) More researchers are focusing on the health effects of drinking sugar-sweetened drinks. They are finding obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease are linked to excess sugar consumption.

The question remains: how much do sugar-sweetened drinks contribute to these conditions and to deaths resulting from these conditions?

Researchers determined in a new study that about 184,000 people die worldwide each year from conditions resulting in part from drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.

However, the study was presented at a conference and is not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal. It used data from a variety of studies that may not show these conditions were specifically caused only by drinking sugary beverages.

"Limit sugary drinks."

The study, led by Gitanjali Singh, a Research Fellow in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, pulled together data from 114 national dietary surveys from across the world.

The researchers estimated that the data from the surveys together represented about 60 percent of the world population. They pulled out the raw numbers from these surveys and adjusted the data to account for differences in how the surveys were conducted.

The researchers estimated numbers for the missing data using mathematical calculations. Next, the researchers reviewed studies that showed relationships between sugar-sweetened beverages and higher body mass index, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers.

Body mass index (BMI) is a ratio of a person's height and weight. It is used to classify someone as being a healthy weight, underweight, overweight or obese.

The studies used were ones that compared populations, but they were not necessarily controlled studies. It's not clear whether these studies were able to show a cause-and-effect relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and the conditions studied.

The studies analyzed were typically ones that provided information about links between diet and health conditions. The researchers used the data in these studies to estimate how often sugar-sweetened beverages contributed to those conditions. These were mathematical estimates, and data from this study should be interpreted cautiously.

The researchers found that the range of sugar-sweetened beverage intake varied considerably across the world. Chinese women over age 65 drank less than a serving a day while Cuban men under age 45 drank more than five servings a day on average.

In total, the researchers estimated that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages contributed to approximately 184,000 deaths worldwide each year. That number included about 25,000 deaths per year in the US.

The researchers arrived at this number by adding up the deaths resulting from diabetes, heart disease and cancers which they calculated to be associated with sugar-sweetened beverages.

Overall, 132,000 individuals die each year from diabetes that could be attributed to drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, the researchers reported.

Meanwhile, 45,000 die from cardiovascular disease and 4,600 die from cancers which the researchers attributed to sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.

The region of the world with the highest estimated deaths was Latin America and the Caribbean, where approximately 118 people per one million die from conditions linked to sugar-sweetened beverages.

"Sugar-sweetened beverages are a major cause of preventable deaths due to chronic diseases, not only in high-income countries, but in low and middle-income countries as well," the researchers wrote. "These findings provide the most comprehensive quantitative estimates of this burden to inform global prevention programs."

The research was presented on March 19 at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions. The data is preliminary and has not undergone review by other experts in the field.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 19, 2013
Last Updated:
August 16, 2013