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Study estimated beverages' role in worldwide obesity and heart disease, diabetes, some cancers

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, March 19 (HealthDay News) -- More than 180,000 deaths worldwide in 2010 were linked to a high intake of sugar-laden 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 "we often think of this as a problem only in high-income countries, like the U.S.," said lead researcher Gitanjali Singh, a research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston.

She said her findings, presented Tuesday at an American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans, point to a need for policies that curb people's sugary drink intake.

One such effort, in New York City, is currently in the spotlight. Last week, 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.

Singh said that's not the only type of measure officials could 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.

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.

"This type of study cannot prove cause-and-effect," said Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"Sugary beverage consumption is often paired with other unhealthy food choices or behaviors," said Sandon, who was not involved in the study. "Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, are the result of many factors, not just excess sugar intake."

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