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NewsBites September 2015 Issue

Calculating Human Toll of Sugary Drinks

Consumption of sugary drinks may lead to an estimated 184,000 adult deaths each year worldwide, according to research recently published in the journal Circulation. “Many countries in the world have a significant number of deaths occurring from a single dietary factor—sugar-sweetened beverages,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, senior author of the study and dean of Tufts’ Friedman School. Dr. Mozaffarian is also editor-in-chief of the Health & Nutrition Letter. “It should be a global priority to substantially reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the diet.”

In the first detailed global report on the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages, researchers estimated deaths and disabilities in 2010. They defined such beverages as any sugar-sweetened sodas, fruit drinks, sports/energy drinks, sweetened iced teas or homemade drinks that contained at least 50 calories per eight-ounce serving (excluding 100% fruit juice). Estimates of consumption were made from 62 dietary surveys including 611,971 individuals across 51 countries, along with data on availability of sugar in 187 countries.

Based on established longitudinal and trial evidence on effects of sugar-sweetened beverages for obesity and diabetes, the study estimated that sugar-sweetened beverage intake contributed to 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 45,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,450 deaths from cancer. Death rates varied greatly between populations, from less than 1% in Japanese over 65 years old to 30% in Mexican adults younger than 45. Overall, of the 20 most populous countries, Mexico had the highest death rate attributable to sugar-sweetened beverages, with the US ranked second.

“Some population dietary changes, such as increasing fruits and vegetables, can be challenging due to agriculture, costs, storage and other complexities. This is not complicated,” says Dr. Mozaffarian. “There are no health benefits from sugar-sweetened beverages, and the potential impact of reducing consumption is saving tens of thousands of deaths each year.”

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