In the U.S., over 35 percent of all adults meet the qualifications for obesity, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which raises their risk of suffering from such serious health concerns as stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Perhaps even more disturbing, roughly 17 percent of children in the U.S. between the ages of two and 19 also qualify as obese.
While a number of factors have contributed to America’s growing obesity epidemic, one of the most overlooked aspects is the number of sodas consumed daily in the U.S. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 48 percent of U.S. adults drink at least one soda a day, and among those who regularly drink soda, the average number consumed is 2.6 a day. While researchers have long tied soda consumption to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests the toll taken by soft drink consumption a lot higher than anyone thought before.
According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, over 180,000 deaths worldwide in 2010 were linked to high consumption of sugary drinks, including 25,000 deaths in the U.S.
As if this number wasn’t already surprising enough, researchers also uncovered that the majority of these deaths actually occurred in middle- to low-income countries, which went against expectations that soft-drink consumption is only a problem in high-income countries like the U.S.
While researchers hope this data highlights the need for policies designed to curb the consumption of sugary drinks, previous efforts to limit soda consumption have drawn harsh scrutiny in the past.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines last summer when he announced plans for a citywide ban on the sale of soft drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. While Mayor Bloomberg’s legislation didn’t prohibit how many bottle or cups of soda a person could purchase or consume a day, the law did hope to reduce the volume of soft drinks citizens drank.
However, before the law could go into affect, a judge struck down the ban to limit the size of soda containers. Despite this setback, Mayor Bloomberg plans to appeal the decision, and refuses to back down on what he views a vital legislation for protecting the health of New Yorkers.
The problems legislators ran into in Gotham have been echoed by groups around the country who argue that limiting a person’s ability to purchase any size of soda infringes on basic American rights and freedoms. So called “anti-soda” legislation is a tough sell for many, not only because of opposition from the beverage industry and consumers, but because it’s difficult point to one aspect of a person’s diet as the reason why they suffer from poor health.
Even the results from this latest study don’t prove direct cause and effect that drinking sugary beverages kill people. This data only shows a link between high consumption of soft drinks and deaths related to certain types of cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. Researchers even admit that soft drinks alone don’t cause deaths, but rather adds just one more component to already unhealthy lifestyles and diets.
To determine the number of deaths attributable to the consumption of sugary drinks, researcher used national nutrition surveys from countries located around the world to gage how much soda people drank daily. Researchers then estimated drinks that contained added sugar affected obesity levels in the countries surveyed. As a final component to their study, researchers then used date on how obesity increases people’s risk of developing cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
In the end, researchers estimated that over 180,000 deaths occurred in 2010 that were “attributable to” the consumption of sugary beverages. These numbers included over 130,000 deaths from diabetes, 45,000 deaths from stroke and heart disease, and 4,600 from various cancers.
While researchers don’t expect the results of this study will convince people that drinking soda could lead to an early death, they do hope that people will start to reevaluate the number of sweetened drinks they consume daily. Even replace one can of soda a day with a glass of water can make an enormous impact on a person’s diet, removing several hundred calories.