New research finds that the consumption of sugary drinks and sodas contributes to about 180,000 obesity-related deaths around the world — including the deaths of about 25,000 adult Americans — each year.
According to a new study presented on Tuesday at a meeting of the American Heart Association, one out of every 100 obesity-related deaths around the world can be tied to sugary drinks, which directly exacerbate health conditions like diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer. Specifically, the over-consumption of those beverages increased global deaths from diabetes by 133,000, from cardiovascular disease by 44,000 and from cancer by 6,000.
Although the United States doesn’t currently have the highest rate of deaths associated with sugary drinks — that dubious distinction goes to Mexico, where people consume more sugar-sweetened beverages than anywhere else in the world — Americans still get the majority of their calories from those type of drinks. The experts who contributed to the study explained that’s a big issue because those calories don’t provide any nutritional value, and policymakers should focus on helping encourage Americans to cut back:
“One of the problems of sugar-sweetened beverages is that we don’t seem to compensate as well for the calories as we do for solid foods,” [Rachel K. Johnson, a professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Vermont] said. “In other words, when we consume sugar-sweetened beverages we don’t reduce the amount of food we consume.”
Johnson cautioned the study didn’t prove cause and effect, just that there was an association between sugared-drink intake and death rates.
Singh, the study’s co-author, said that taxing sugary drinks in the same way as cigarettes, or limiting advertising or access, may help reduce usage.
“Our study shows that tens of thousands of deaths worldwide are caused by drinking sugary beverages and this should impel policy makers to make strong policies to reduce consumption of sugary beverages,” Singh said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) attempted to craft exactly that type of policy, seeking to ban the sale of large sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in order to encourage healthier portion sizes. But after a state judge struck down Bloomberg’s initiative last week, New Yorkers won’t have to curb their supersize soda habits anytime soon. Instead of working to come up similar health-conscious policies in other parts of the country, however, some lawmakers are actually passing reactionary “anti-Bloomberg bills” to prevent any regulation of the food and drink industries.
The soda industry was one of the biggest critics of New York City’s proposed soda regulation, and even sued to prevent it from going into effect. Predictably, large soda companies have been loudly critical of public health policies that seek any additional oversight over their products or their advertising, framing the obesity issue as one of personal responsibility. The American Beverage Association, which represents the soda industry, also disputed the findings of this new study, claiming the research is “more about sensationalism than science.”