Consumption of soft drinks, whether they’re sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners, may raise the risk of early death, suggests new research conducted at the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
In a study that followed more than 400,000 European adults for more than 16 years, the risk of premature death was heightened in those who consumed two or more glasses of soft drinks each day.
The results for sugar-sweetened soft drinks provide further support to limit consumption and to replace them with other healthier beverages, preferably water. For artificially sweetened soft drinks, the researchers said they need a better understanding of the mechanisms that may underlie their health risks.
The new findings don’t mean that soft drinks cause early death, because in these observational studies there are other factors which may be behind the association. For instance, high soft drink consumption may be a marker of overall unhealthy diet.
About the study
To take a closer look at a possible link between soft drinks and premature mortality, the researchers turned to the data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, a multinational study that recruited participants from 1992 through 2000.
The study assessed diet at the start, including soft drink consumption. Participants also filled out lifestyle questionnaires that asked about factors such as educational level, smoking habits, alcohol intake and physical activity.
The study included 451,743 participants, who were tracked for an average of 16.4 years. The average age at the start was about 51 years. During the study, 41,693 participants died.
Artificially sweetened soft drinks tied to higher risk of early death than sugary drinks
After accounting for other factors that could increase the risk of death, such as body mass index and smoking, the researchers found that participants who consumed two or more glasses of soft drinks per day were 17% more likely to die early compared to those who drank less than a single serving of soft drinks per month.
Those who consumed two or more glasses of sugar sweetened soft drinks per day were 8% more likely to die early compared to those who drank less than a glass a month. Participants who consumed two or more glasses of artificially sweetened soft drinks a day were 26% more likely to die prematurely compared to those who drank less than a glass per month.
The researchers said that there were differences between the two groups of study participants that went beyond soft drink consumption.
High soft drink consumers had higher BMI and were also more likely to be current smokers. It’s possible that soft drink consumption could be a marker for some other lifestyle factor or behaviour.
In the meantime, the best course is to stick to natural foods and beverages with minimal processing.
Source: JAMA Internal Medicine, online September 3, 2019.
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