In early 2013, just a week after the New York Supreme Court struck down Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed large sugary drink ban, which would have prohibited the sale of beverages larger than 16 ounces in many food outlets, research was presented at an American Heart Association meeting that linked consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide – 180,000 deaths per year.
Fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, soda, sweetened iced teas, etc. are consumed in huge quantities in the modern world. The average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar daily, equating to 355 calories. Teens consume even more – 34.3 teaspoons or 549 calories a day, and half of the added sugars in the typical American diet come from sweetened drinks, mostly soda.1, 2
It is no secret that these sugary beverages are a threat to human health. Sugary drinks have very low satiety value, and extremely low to zero micronutrient content; the link between these beverages and weight gain is well-documented.3 However, these liquid calories carry more danger than excess calories alone – sugary drinks are powerfully disease-promoting.
Sugary drinks provide their huge calorie load with no fiber, and no chewing required; the sugar is consumed and then hits the bloodstream almost instantly. The surge of glucose in the blood (and fructose in the liver) sets off complex pathways in the body that, over time, contribute to insulin resistance, increased visceral fat mass, elevated cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, and cancer cell survival and proliferation.4-8 Consumption of added sugars or sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.2, 9-15 There are also strong links between hyperinsulinemia (excess insulin in the blood, a consequence of excess blood glucose) and certain cancers.7, 16-19
Researchers gathered data from the World Health Organization on sugary drink consumption, obesity and chronic disease in 114 countries. Knowing that sugary drinks promote obesity, and obesity is a risk factor for chronic diseases, they investigated the association between sweetened beverage consumption and obesity in the different countries, and then analyzed deaths from obesity-related chronic disease.
These are their conclusions – estimates of the number of deaths per year that may be attributed to sugar sweetened beverages:20
Total deaths worldwide: 180,000
Total deaths in the U.S.: 25,000
Deaths from diabetes worldwide: 133,000
Deaths from cardiovascular disease worldwide: 44,000
One-hundred and eighty thousand deaths each year could possibly be prevented by simply drinking water instead of soda?
These estimates don’t even take into account the added sugars in breakfast cereals, baked goods, candy and ice cream that are so prevalent in the American diet – not to mention the oils, fried foods, white flour, white rice and animal products. Imagine the number of deaths that could be prevented, the health care costs that could be saved, and the excellent health our nation could enjoy by not just cutting out sugary drinks, but following a health-promoting Nutritarian lifestyle. Preventable diseases are our major killers, and we have the power to protect ourselves with superior nutrition.
It is clear that sugary drinks are disease-causing and each of us can make the simple choice to avoid disease-causing substances. The addictive properties of excessively sweet foods may make this choice difficult for many people, but hopefully research like this will reach many who are sick and overweight on the American diet, and help them to build the motivation they need to abstain from disease-causing sugary drinks.
1. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Sugar: Too Much of a Sweet Thing [http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/infographic_full.pdf]
2. Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al: Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2009, 120:1011-1020.
3. Malik VS, Schulze MB, Hu FB: Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr 2006, 84:274-288.
4. Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Keim NL, et al: Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. J Clin Invest 2009, 119:1322-1334.
5. Cohen L, Curhan G, Forman J: Association of Sweetened Beverage Intake with Incident Hypertension. J Gen Intern Med 2012.
6. Maersk M, Belza A, Stodkilde-Jorgensen H, et al: Sucrose-sweetened beverages increase fat storage in the liver, muscle, and visceral fat depot: a 6-mo randomized intervention study. Am J Clin Nutr 2012, 95:283-289.
7. Arcidiacono B, Iiritano S, Nocera A, et al: Insulin resistance and cancer risk: an overview of the pathogenetic mechanisms. Exp Diabetes Res 2012, 2012:789174.
8. Port AM, Ruth MR, Istfan NW: Fructose consumption and cancer: is there a connection? Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes 2012, 19:367-374.
9. Fagherazzi G, Vilier A, Saes Sartorelli D, et al: Consumption of artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages and incident type 2 diabetes in the Etude Epidemiologique aupres des femmes de la Mutuelle Generale de l'Education Nationale-European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort. Am J Clin Nutr 2013.
10. Malik VS, Hu FB: Sweeteners and Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: The Role of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. Curr Diab Rep 2012.
11. Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, et al: Sugar Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-analysis. Diabetes Care 2010.
12. Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, et al: The relationship of sugar to population-level diabetes prevalence: an econometric analysis of repeated cross-sectional data. PLoS One 2013, 8:e57873.
13. Bernstein AM, de Koning L, Flint AJ, et al: Soda consumption and the risk of stroke in men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2012.
14. Friberg E, Wallin A, Wolk A: Sucrose, high-sugar foods, and risk of endometrial cancer--a population-based cohort study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2011, 20:1831-1837.
15. De Stefani E, Deneo-Pellegrini H, Mendilaharsu M, et al: Dietary sugar and lung cancer: a case-control study in Uruguay. Nutr Cancer 1998, 31:132-137.
16. Bowker SL, Majumdar SR, Veugelers P, et al: Increased cancer-related mortality for patients with type 2 diabetes who use sulfonylureas or insulin: Response to Farooki and Schneider. Diabetes Care 2006, 29:1990-1991.
17. Gunter MJ, Hoover DR, Yu H, et al: Insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I, endogenous estradiol, and risk of colorectal cancer in postmenopausal women. Cancer Res 2008, 68:329-337.
18. Gunter MJ, Hoover DR, Yu H, et al: Insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I, and risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. J Natl Cancer Inst 2009, 101:48-60.
19. Pisani P: Hyper-insulinaemia and cancer, meta-analyses of epidemiological studies. Arch Physiol Biochem 2008, 114:63-70.
20. 180,000 deaths worldwide may be associated with sugary soft drinks. American Heart Association Meeting Report.