Just TWO cans of sugary fizzy drinks a day ‘significantly increases the risk heart attack, diabetes and stroke’
- Harvard study marks most comprehensive study on sugary drinks to date
- Found 1 or 2 servings a day linked to 26% greater risk of type 2 diabetes
- 35% greater risk of heart attack or heart disease and 16% risk of stroke
- Experts have called for urgent action to reduce consumption of the drinks
Drinking just two cans of sugary fizzy drinks a day increases the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease significantly, a study has today revealed.
Researchers who carried out the review, the most comprehensive on the health effects of sugar-sweetened beverages to date, have called for urgent action to reduce consumption of fructose corn syrup or table sugar, sucrose.
Professor Frank Hu, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: ‘Since we rarely consume fructose in isolation, the major source of fructose in the diet comes from fructose-containing sugars, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, in sugar-sweetened beverages.
‘Our findings underscore the urgent need for public health strategies that reduce the consumption of these drinks.’
The paper, which reviewed data from recent epidemiological studies and meta-analyses of these studies, reveals that consuming one or two servings a day has been linked to:
- as high as a 26 per cent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- a 35 per cent greater risk of heart attack or fatal heart disease
- and a 16 per cent increased risk of stroke
Sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, which is produced from corn starch, have been widely used in the US, as a low-cost alternative to sucrose in foods and beverages.
While the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has decreased moderately in the past decade, they are still the single greatest source of added sugar intake in the US diet.
Half the US population consumes these drinks every day, with one in four getting at least 200 calories per day from them and five per cent consuming more than 500 calories per day – the equivalent of four cans of soda.
‘This is particularly concerning as the research shows that consuming one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day has been linked to greater weight gain and obesity in numerous published studies,’ said Professor Hu.
‘Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can lead to weight gain because the liquid calories are not filling, and so people don’t reduce their food intake at subsequent meals.’
The research team also explored how fructose is metabolized in the body and its link to weight gain and the development of metabolic and cardiovascular conditions.
‘Part of the problem is how fructose behaves in the body,’ said Professor Hu.
Glucose, another component of sugar, is readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream where it is transported through the action of insulin into the body’s cells to be used as fuel.
Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolized in the liver where it can be converted to fatty compounds called triglycerides.
This can lead to fatty liver disease and insulin resistance, a key risk factor for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Over-consumption of fructose can also lead to too much uric acid in the blood, which is associated with a greater risk of gout, a painful inflammatory arthritis.
The findings reveal that one or more a day is enough to significantly increase the risk of diabetes and stroke. It found one or two servings a day is linked to a 35 per cent increase risk of heart attack or fatal heart disease
The researchers point out that since fructose and glucose typically travel together in sugar-sweetened beverages and foods, it is important to reduce total amounts of added sugars, especially in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages.
They outline a number of alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages that include water, coffee, and tea.
Professor Hu said that while artificially sweetened drinks may be preferable to sugary drinks in the short-term, further studies are needed to evaluate their long-term health effects.
He said additional research is needed to explore the health effects of different types of sugars and how liquid vs. solid forms of sugar affect the body.
However, Professor Hu said there is sufficient evidence to support the need for more aggressive public policy interventions to help reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
The World Health Organization and the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommend that added sugars comprise no more than 10 per cent of total calories consumed.
‘Although reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages or added sugar alone is unlikely to solve the obesity epidemic entirely, limiting intake is one simple change that will have a measurable impact on weight control and prevention of cardio-metabolic diseases,’Professor Hu and his team concluded.
Professor Hu added that he is hopeful that changes to nutritional labeling, which are expected to clearly define the amount of added sugar in a product and the percent daily value for added sugar, will also help to educate consumers and ultimately reduce the daily intake of these and other products packed with sugar.
The review paper is part of a comprehensive Population Health Promotion issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology focusing on issues that broadly impact public health and the prevention of cardiovascular disease and related conditions.
Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This is an interesting review from a US perspective and reflects recent research on carbohydrates and UK health from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which highlighted the importance of lowering our intakes of sugar, in particular sugar-sweetened drinks to help protect our health.
Experts have called for urgent action to tackle the consumption of the drinks, which fuel obesity and related conditions including type 2 diabetes
‘Average UK sugar intake has remained in excess of the recommended daily allowance for over five years and sugar sweetened beverages are one of the top sources of added sugars in our diets, especially for children and young people.
‘Sucrose, rather than fructose, is used more commonly as a sweetener in food and drinks in the UK but, either way, diets that are high in sugar tend to be higher in energy. Consuming more energy than we use on a regular basis will lead to weight gain and obesity, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
‘Tackling the obesity problem requires multiple interventions and dramatically reducing our intake of sugar-sweetened drinks clearly has a role to play.’
But critics have attacked the study, claiming the evidence does not support the claims regarding fizzy drinks.
Gavin Partington, director general at the British Soft Drinks Association, said: ‘The fact is there is no difference between the sugar in soft drinks and the sugar in other types of food and drink so the evidence does not support these claims about the unique impact of one product type.
‘Soft drinks contribute just 3 per cent of the calories in the average British diet but like all food and drink should be consumed as part of a balanced diet.’
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