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Daily intake of soft drinks raises early death risk

By Chukwuma Muanya
13 September 2019   |   3:38 am
A new study looking at hundreds of thousands of individuals has linked higher consumption of soft drinks with greater risk of premature death. The researchers saw that the association held for both artificially and sugar sweetened drinks.

*Taxing sweetened versions by amount of sugar could cut obesity, boost economic gains
A new study looking at hundreds of thousands of individuals has linked higher consumption of soft drinks with greater risk of premature death. The researchers saw that the association held for both artificially and sugar sweetened drinks.

Most soft drinks pose a health risk, and new research finds that two glasses of soft drinks per day may raise early death risk.Because the findings are that of an observational study, they do not prove that regular soft drink consumption drives early death. However, the research team concludes that the results endorse health initiatives to reduce public consumption of such beverages.

A recent paper in JAMA Internal Medicine describes how the international study group analyzed data on 451,743 adults from 10 European countries.The data came from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).EPIC is an ongoing cohort whose participants enlisted between 1992 and 2000 and who lives in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

On enrollment, the participants gave information about their food and drink consumption, either by filling in questionnaires or in interviews. Their average age was 51 years old, and 71 per cent were female. None had heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or stroke at the outset.Of the participants taking part in the analysis, 41,693 died during a follow-up that averaged 16.4 years and ranged from 11.1 years in Greece to 19.2 years in France.

The researchers compared deaths during the follow-up in those who said that they drank soft drinks every day with those who said that they consumed hardly any — that is less than one glass per month.The team defined one glass as 250 milliliters (8.5 fluid ounces). Soft drink consumption included drinking of fizzy soft drinks such as cola and lemonade; isotonic or energy drinks; diet and low-calorie soft fizzy drinks; and diluted syrups, such as fruit cordial or squash. Soft drink consumption did not include fruit juice.

Their analysis revealed that consuming two or more glasses per day of total, sugar sweetened, and artificially sweetened soft drinks was linked to a higher risk of death from all causes in comparison to consuming hardly any soft drinks. The team observed the link in both males and females.At the study outset, the participants also answered questions about their health and lifestyle. An observational study has linked moderate red wine consumption to greater health and diversity of gut bacteria.

From this information, the researchers were able to rule out any influence from factors such as physical activity, body mass index (BMI), education, smoking, and diet.A further analysis also revealed that in comparison to consuming hardly any, drinking two or more glasses per day of artificially sweetened soft drinks was tied to a higher risk of circulatory diseases.

Meanwhile, a team of researchers has concluded that taxing sugar-sweetened beverages by the amount of sugar they contain, rather than by the liquid volume of these drinks, as several United States (U.S.) cities currently do, could produce even greater health benefits and economic gains.The analysis, by researchers at New York University, Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California, Berkeley, appeared in the journal Science.

Seven U.S. cities currently tax sugar-sweetened beverages, or SSBs, by the volume of the beverage—levies that don’t take into account the amount of sugar these drinks contain.Harvard’s Anna Grummon, NYU’s Hunt Allcott, Wharton’s Benjamin Lockwood, and UC Berkeley’s Dmitry Taubinsky wrote: “Despite their different sugar content and resulting different harms, all sugar-sweetened beverages are taxed at the same rate per liter under a volumetric tax.

“This tax structure gives consumers no incentive to substitute from high-sugar to low-sugar SSBs, even though the latter are less harmful. Thus, while a volumetric tax reduces consumption of SSBs in general, it does not provide the maximum possible health benefits.”The authors added: “A basic economic principle is that such corrective taxes should be proportional to the harm caused. The harm from sugary drinks comes from the sugar, and SSBs vary substantially in sugar per unit volume.”

The researchers note, however, that a tax on liquid volume is beneficial. They estimate, for instance, that a 34-cent per liter volumetric tax causes the average U.S. adult to drink 2.9 fewer ounces of SSBs per day, a 22-percent reduction. This decrease in sugar intake would help the average adult to lose 2.3 pounds. In addition, a nationwide volumetric SSB tax would reduce obesity rates by 2 percent—a 2.1 million decline in adults with obesity—and would lower the number of new Type 2 diabetes cases by 2.3 percent, or approximately 36,000 new cases per year.

They added that such a tax would also result in economic gains—primarily through savings in health care costs—of about $1.4 billion per year nationwide.However, in their assessment, a tax on the amount of sugar in SSBs would yield even greater health and economic gains. Such a tax would cause U.S. adults to consume 2.3 fewer grams of sugar per day from SSBs than they would under a volumetric tax, helping the average adult lose an additional 0.7 pounds. Across the U.S., a sugar tax instead of a volumetric tax would reduce obesity rates by an additional 630,000 adults and would cut the number of new Type 2 diabetes cases by another 0.7 percent—or approximately 11,000 people per year. Moreover, the additional annual economic gain would be another $400 million.

“Once there is agreement to tax SSBs, it seems natural to tax the harmful sugar, instead of the liquid that comes with the sugar,” the authors conclude. “Our calculations suggest that this idea offers valuable low-hanging fruit for improving public health.”A previous study by Allcott, Lockwood, and Taubinsky concluded that soda taxes serve as a “net good,” an assessment based on an examination of health benefits and consumer behavior. That analysis, which appeared in the Quarterly Journal of Economics earlier this year, estimated that a nationwide soda tax would yield $7 billion in net benefits to society each year.

Meanwhile, in the cases of sugar-sweetened soft drinks, the link was to a higher risk of death from digestive diseases. “No association,” write the authors, “was observed between soft drink consumption and overall cancer death.”In a discussion of the findings, the researchers note that regardless of whether they included or removed the potential influence of BMI, the results were unchanged.

They also found positive links between total, artificially, and sugar sweetened soft drinks with deaths from all causes, as well as deaths from circulatory and digestive diseases among participants whose BMI was in the healthy range.Such results would suggest that the links that they observed were likely not related to body fat. They support the idea that the link between soft drinks and premature death occurs through other routes.

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