Drinking sugary drinks, or sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), heightens the risk of premature death, according to new research from Harvard University.
According to the study, led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the main cause of this premature death is from cardiovascular disease (CVD). To a lesser extent, cancer is a risk too. The risk was more pronounced in women.
The study also found that drinking one artificially sweetened beverage (ASB) per day instead of a sugary one lowered the risk of premature death.
Previous studies have found links between SSB intake and several health conditions. These include weight gain and higher risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. But few studies have looked at the connection between SSB intake and mortality.
In the new study, researchers analysed data from 80,647 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study (1980-2014) and 37,716 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1986-2014). For both, participants answered questionnaires about their lifestyles and health status every two years.
The results in more detail
After adjusting for major diet and lifestyle factors, the researchers found that the more SSBs a person drank, the higher their risk of early death from any cause.
Compared with drinking SSBs less than once per month, drinking one to four was linked with a one per cent increased risk. Two to six per week carried a six per cent increase. One to two per day, a 14 per cent increase. And two or more per day, a 21 per cent increase. These risks were more marked among women than among men.
In particular, the study found a “strong” link between drinking SSBs and an increased risk of early death from CVD. Compared with infrequent SSB drinkers, those who drank two or more servings per day had a 31 per cent higher risk of early death from CVD. Each additional serving per day of SSBs carried a 10 per cent increased higher risk of CVD-related death.
Among both men and women, there was a “modest” link between SSB consumption and early-death risk from cancer.
Drinking ASBs as a replacement meant a “moderately lower” risk of early death compared with SSBs, the researchers found.
“Our results provide further support to limit intake of SSBs and to replace them with other beverages, preferably water, to improve overall health and longevity,” said Vasanti Malik, research scientist at the Department of Nutrition and lead author of the study.