Sugary Beverages Linked with Increased Risk of Premature Death

The large-scale, long-term study found that drinking sugary beverages was closely linked with earlier mortality rates.

There is bad news for those who love their colas and sugary drinks. A large long-term study of U.S. men and women led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) may increase the risk of premature death, particularly for women. 

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Linked with early death

"Our results provide further support to limit intake of SSBs and to replace them with other beverages, preferably water, to improve overall health and longevity," said Vasanti Malik, the research scientist in the Department of Nutrition and lead author of the study.

The study found that SSBs were particularly linked with death from cardiovascular disease, and to a lesser extent even from cancer. The effect was so pronounced that the research revealed that even drinking one artificially sweetened beverage (ASB) per day instead of a sugary one helped.

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The large scale research saw data analyzed from 80,647 women participating in the Nurses' Health Study (1980-2014) and from 37,716 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2014).

The researchers found that drinking one to four sugary drinks per month was linked with a 1% increased risk of death from any cause; two to six per week with a 6% increase; one to two per day with a 14% increase; and two or more per day with a 21% increase. Even worse, that increase was more pronounced for women.

The strongest link was with early death from cardiovascular disease. Subjects who drank two or more servings per day of SSBs had a 31% higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease. There was also a modest link between SSB consumption and early death risk from cancer.

Artificially sweetened beverages also problematic

Artificially sweetened beverages (ASBs) and risk of early death were also evaluated. Although, replacing SSBs with ASBs was found to be linked with a moderately lower risk of early death, high levels of ASBs were also problematic for women. At least four servings a day resulted in higher early death risk in women.

"These findings are consistent with the known adverse effects of high sugar intake on metabolic risk factors and the strong evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, itself a major risk factor for premature death. The results also provide further support for policies to limit marketing of sugary beverages to children and adolescents and for implementing soda taxes because the current price of sugary beverages does not include the high costs of treating the consequences," said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition.

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The study is published in the journal Circulation.

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