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20 Mar, 2013 18:59

Soda kills 180,000 people a year

Soda kills 180,000 people a year

Your sweet tooth could be deadly: researchers have found that 25,000 people died from drinking sugary beverages in the US in 2010 – and 180,000 have died worldwide. The data presents new evidence on the public health hazard triggered by artificial drinks.

Nearly half of all Americans, 48 percent, last year were drinking at least one glass of soda per day, Gallup reported in July. Among soda-drinkers, the average daily amount is 2.6 glasses. With such a high rate of soda consumption, Americans should be worried about new data that Harvard researchers have discovered about the danger of consuming sugary beverages.

Gitanjali Singh, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and lead author of the study, has spent five years researching the effect of sugary beverages with her Harvard colleagues. The team found that the artificial drinks were directly responsible for 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 44,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 deaths from cancer in 2010.

With so many Americans drinking themselves to death, the researchers have termed the dangerous habit a ‘public health hazard’. And while the cause of death is usually attributed to a specific disease, the researchers found that the high rate of consumption of sugary drinks directly caused those conditions.

"We know that sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to obesity, and that a large number of deaths are caused by obesity-related diseases. But until now, nobody had really put these pieces together," Singh said while presenting the results of the study at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

The researchers made their conclusions based on data that recorded how many sugar-sweetened beverages people drank, divided by age and sex. They then proceeded to determine how the amounts of consumed beverages affected obesity rates, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Finally, the scientists calculated the mortality rates of these conditions and concluded that 180,000 deaths could be attributed to the consumption of unhealthy beverages.

The results of the study come just one week after New York City Judge Milton Tingling blocked Mayor Michael Bloomberg from implementing a city-wide ban on supersized sugary drinks. Bloomberg, angered about the rejection, said that the judge was “totally in error” and that he was “talking about lives versus profits”. The ban would have outlawed artificial beverages served in containers 16 ounces or larger. Critics have argued that Americans determined to drink large quantities of soda could simply order multiple drinks or refill them – and that the restriction would simply turn New York into a “nanny state”.

Whether or not lawmakers should have control over Americans’ consumption is still a matter or debate. But the researchers claim the fact that sugary drinks are unhealthy has been confirmed.

However the American Beverage Association has publicly criticized the Harvard study, claiming that the researchers couldn’t possibly link deaths to sugary drinks.

"It does not show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer - the real causes of death among the studied subjects," the industry group said in a statement. "The researchers make a huge leap when they take beverage intake calculations from around the globe and allege that those beverages are the cause of deaths which the authors themselves acknowledge are due to chronic disease."

But the authors claim that five years of research has allowed them to draw solid conclusions linking high consumption of sugary drinks to the diseases that ultimately killed its victims.

"I think our findings should really impel policymakers to make effective policies to reduce sugary beverage consumption since it causes a significant number of deaths," Singh said, adding that she thinks "cause" is a fitting word despite the limitations of the association study.

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor, compared sugary drinks to cigarettes – neither directly cause a person’s death, but both cause diseases that are often fatal.

"It is quite frightening to see the rise in chronic diseases as people around the world consume more and more sugary drinks," Besser said. "It reminds me of the way lung cancer is on the rise around the world as more and more people smoke cigarettes."