Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year, and should be eliminated from people’s diets, medical experts have warned. The global death toll from sugar-laden drinks – ranging from soft drinks to fruit smoothies – has been revealed in a new paper published in the American Heart Association’s Circulation journal.
Most of the deaths are from people who die from diabetes, estimated at some 133,000 a year. Around 45,000 people die each year from heart disease and another 6,450 from cancer, according to the study - which is the first comprehensive assessment of the global deaths attributable to sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).
Researchers estimating the deaths from diabetes, heart disease, and cancers in 2010 defined SSBs as any sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened iced teas, sports/energy drinks, or homemade sugary drinks. Pure fruit juice was excluded. The study drew on 62 dietary surveys including more than 611,000 people conducted between 1980 and 2010 across 51 countries – representing almost two thirds of the world’s adult population. This information, along with data on the health harms of sugary drinks, enabled researchers to estimate the number of deaths attributable to such beverages.
When it comes to the total number of deaths annually, the United States tops the list – with 25,347. But when it comes to the actual death rate, Mexico is top – with 404.5 deaths per million adults. Most of the deaths are concentrated among adults aged 20 to 44 years of age in low and middle income countries, say researchers. Britain has 1,316 deaths a year, with an estimated mortality rate of 30.5 per million adults.
The findings “indicate the need for population based efforts to reduce SSB consumption throughout the world through effective health policies and targeted interventions directed at stemming obesity-related disease,” states the paper. The study was conducted by an international team of researchers from Harvard, Tufts and Washington universities in the US, and Imperial College London in the UK.
“Many countries in the world have a significant number of deaths occurring from a single dietary factor, sugar-sweetened beverages. It should be a global priority to substantially reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the diet,” commented Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, senior author of the study and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University in Boston.
“There are no health benefits from sugar-sweetened beverages, and the potential impact of reducing consumption is saving tens of thousands of deaths each year,” he added.
But responding to the research, Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: “In no way does this study show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer.”
He added: “The researchers provide no evidence when they illogically and wrongly 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.”