Posted on Sep 06, 2019, 1 p.m.
Diet or not, regular consumption of soft drinks, whether they are regular or diet, have been associated with a greater risk of death from all causes in a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
451,743 participants from 10 European countries having a mean age of 50.8 with no history of diabetes, stroke, cancer or heart disease, were surveyed in food and drink consumption and tracked; 2 or more glasses of artificial sweetened soft drinks per day was associated with deaths from circulatory diseases, and one or more glasses of sugar sweetened soft drinks was associated with deaths from digestive disease including intestine, pancreas, appendix, and liver diseases.
Several studies have had similar results, but noted the elevated soft drink intake may be a marker for an overall unhealthy lifestyle. In this study similar assocaitions were seen in smokers and nonsmokers, as well as lean and obese participants alike, indicating the assocaition between mortality and soft drinks is not strongly influenced by BMI and smoking habits.
“In our study, high soft drinks consumers had a higher body mass index (BMI) and were also more likely to be current tobacco smokers,” said the study’s chief researcher, Neil Murphy of the International Agency for Research on Cancer. “We made statistical adjustments in our analyses for BMI, smoking habits and other mortality risk factors which may have biased our results, and the positive associations remained.”
“The results of this study are significant,” said Sarah Reinhardt, lead food systems and health analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It reinforces a fact that won’t surprise anyone in the nutrition field: Processed foods loaded with artificial ingredients will never be the magic bullet to better health, no matter how low they are in sugar. Our bodies are smarter than that.”
Advocacy groups are appreciative of studies exploring links between added sugars and human health, but they caution such results may be a reverse causation effect wherein diet soda drinkers may have other common qualities that may indicate a different explanation for these results, such as the possibility of the artificially sweetened associations being influenced by unhealthy individuals who switched from regular to artificially sweetened soda.
“This new European study is somewhat inconsistent with earlier findings,” said Bonnie Liebman, CSPI’s director of nutrition. “In the new study, the risk of dying of any cause was more strongly linked to people who drank more diet drinks than to people who drank more sugary drinks.”
“We recognize that a possible explanation for the positive associations found for artificially sweetened soft drinks is that participants who were already at greater health risk (those who were overweight or obese; those with prediabetes) may have switched to artificially sweetened soft drinks to manage their calorie and sugar intake,” said Murphy.
The 50 international researchers involved in this study advance no theories about the relationships that they observed and encourage public health campaigns aimed at limiting the consumption of all soft drinks.
Sweetened drinks are one of the leading sources of added sugar in the diet according to the American Heart Association. Since the 1970s the amount of obese adolescents and children has more than tripled according to the CDC, and 40% of adults are obese according to the American Medical Association.
Several American cities including Berkley, San Francisco, Oakland, Albany, Philadelphia, Boulder, Portland, and Cook County have all moved to impose soda taxes, but widespread efforts are being challenged with resistance from the deep pockets of the soda lobbyists.
A spokesman for the American Beverage Association says that over half of all beverages being purchased contain no sugar, and "no one should over consume sugar, and we stand by the safety and quality of our products.”
“It’s all the more imperative to successfully commercialize lower-sugar and less-sweet beverages," said Seth Goldman, chief executive of Honest Tea. “There’s a recognition that the consumer is evolving, too. If [soda companies] don’t change, they’re going to miss that evolving consumer. We’re seeing shifts that are unlikely to reverse themselves.”
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.