Processing Magazine

Soft drinks linked to 180,000 deaths worldwide, study suggests

March 22, 2013

Sugary drinks have long been at the center of healthcare discussions, with many campaigners and doctors warning that soda is bad for people's health and can lead to a number of health problems, including obesity and diabetes. This warning has now been supported by the findings of a new study carried out by a team of researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass., which suggested that more than 180,000 deaths worldwide were directly related to the consumption of sugary drinks in 2010 alone.

The United States is among the most affected countries, with approximately 25,000 deaths linked to sugar-sweetened soda, sports drinks and fruit drinks. The study, presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in New Orleans, provided evidence that sweet beverages have played a significant role in the development of the global obesity epidemic.

The study was based on data collected from various studies in 187 countries, looking at total figures as well as a number of separate demographic groups such as gender and age. Overall, researchers linked sugar-sweetened beverages to 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 44,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases and 6,000 deaths from cancer in 2010.

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The suggested link between hundreds of thousands of deaths and sugar-sweetened beverages comes amid campaigns for a ban on soda drinks, proposals to impose taxes on sweet beverages and calls for package size reduction as a means to reduce the adverse effect of these beverages on public health. Many countries have considered taking steps to minimize consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

Responding to the study, the American Beverage Association (ABA) criticized the research and its conclusions. It stated that the results were more about "sensationalism than science." The association claimed that the researchers did not prove that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages caused diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer, which in fact were the actual reasons for death in the cited cases. The team of researchers "made a huge leap" in actually assuming that beverages were the direct cause of those fatalities, as it is a scientifically proven fact that chronic diseases such as those listed are caused by a number of factors, including family history, body mass index, smoking, levels of physical activity and many others. Therefore, it could not be conclusively stated that the deaths could be attributed to sugar-sweetened beverages, the ABA explained.

Moreover, the study was not peer-reviewed and its methodology was not fully presented, which makes the study impossible to evaluate, the Association went on. Researchers looked at population data, such as average consumption of soda drinks in a given country, rather than focusing on individual patients, the industry group also claimed.