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Sugary Drinks Tied to 25,000 U.S. Deaths a Year

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

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Study author Singh agreed that for any one person, many factors go into the risk of developing heart disease, cancer or other chronic conditions. But she said that on the "population level," it is still possible to estimate the number of deaths attributable to sugary drink consumption.

To do that, she and her colleagues used national nutrition surveys from around the world to gauge how high people's sugary drink intake was in each country. Then they estimated how sugar-added drinks affected obesity levels in those countries. Finally, Singh said, they turned to data on how obesity sways people's risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers -- such as breast, colon and pancreatic cancers.

Overall, they estimate that upwards of 180,000 deaths were "attributable to" sugary drink consumption in 2010. That included more than 130,000 from diabetes, about 45,000 from heart disease and stroke, and 4,600 from various cancers.

As for sugary drink intake, young Cuban men beat the rest of the world: Men younger than 45 typically downed more than five servings per day. And in general, Latin America and the Caribbean had the most deaths linked to sugar-sweetened drinks.

"This sheds light on the linear connection between sugary drink consumption and deaths," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist and director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She was not involved in the study.

She agreed that it's difficult to blame deaths on high-sugar drinks alone. But she also said the findings highlight one important, and simple, move that people can make to improve their diets.

"Make this one change, to stay away from sugar-sweetened beverages," Steinbaum said. "Is it the only fix? Certainly not." But, she added, replacing even one sugary drink a day with water can cut a significant amount of calories.

Steinbaum also noted that sodas are not the only culprit. "Often, these fruit juices that people think are healthy are loaded with sugar," she said.

One of the big concerns in the sugary-drink "war" is that many children and teenagers are downing huge amounts of liquid calories. Because this study focused on deaths from chronic diseases, Singh said it says nothing about the potential health effects on kids across the globe.

"We need research to figure out how high their consumption of sugary drinks really is," Singh said, "and to see how it affects their health."

The ABA countered that it is daily caloric intake, not high-calorie beverages, that really matters. "When it comes to risk for heart disease, there is nothing unique about the calories from added sugars, or sugar-sweetened beverages for that matter," the group said.

Study results presented at medical meetings are generally considered preliminary until they undergo peer review to be published in a journal.

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