The average person eats 24 kilograms of sugar every year.
If you’re not savvy with the metric system, that 52.8 pounds of the sweet white crystals consumed each year by the average person.
The largest source of the population’s high intake of sugar?
A new study suggests that the more frequently you down one (or more) of these sugar-riddled elixirs, the less likely you are to live into your golden years.
Published, in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, the latest epidemiological study found a connection between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and premature death.
Pooling data from two rather large databases, including the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFUS), researchers assesed the health records of more than 118,000 individuals (ages 30 to 55 years old) dating back to 1980. The health records were based on patients’ answers to health questionnaires that were completed every two years during each respective study’s examination period (1980-2014 for the NHS and 1986-2014 for the HPFUS).
The team noted more than 36,000 deaths among the patient population, split between 7,896 deaths due to cardiovascular disease and 12,380 due to various forms of cancer.
After adjusting for various factors (health markers, physical activity, etc.) the team then compared the subjects’ diets, keying in on the subjects’ intake of added-sugar beverages, such as sports drinks, soda, and fruit drinks.
They team documented that the more sugar-sweetened beverages an individual drank, the greater his/her risk of an early death from any cause. More specifically, drinking 1-4 sugary drinks per month was connected with a 1% increased risk, while consuming 2-6 sweet drinks per week yielded a 6% increased risk.
Individuals consuming two or more sugar-sweetened drinks per day had a sizeable 21% increased risk of dying early from any cause. And, researchers also noted that the link between early death and sugary drink consumption was more pronounced in women than men.
Now, at this point, you might be thinking:
“Fine, I’ll give up my sugary drinks and switch to sugar-free alternatives that use artificial sweeteners.”
But, researchers also investigated the link between artificially sweetened beverage intake and risk of early death, too.
Individuals consuming at least four servings per day of artificially sweetened beverages also resulted in an increased risk of CVD-related mortality as well as overall mortality in women. However, researchers noted that replacing sugary drinks with artificially sweetened ones was associated with a lower risk of early mortality.
Upon publication of the study’s findings, researchers cite their work as further proof of the need to limit marketing of sugary drinks to children and adolescents as well as the need to implement taxes on soda as:
“...the current price of sugary beverages does not include the high costs of treating the consequences.”
So, what can we take away from this latest soft drink study?
For starters, let’s clear up one thing -- this study shows an association (or relationship) between an increased intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and increased risk of early mortality.
In other words, researchers observed a link between those who consumed a high amount of sugar-sweetened beverages and an increased risk of dying younger when reviewing the patients’ health records.
What this study does not show (or prove) is that sugary drinks cause people to die earlier than those that drink little to no sweetened beverages.
Remember, the people most likely consuming high amounts of added sugar, are also the same ones who tend to eat poorer quality diets, perform less exercise, and are generally the least physically active.
If you’re consuming so much sugar-laden foods that it’s infringing upon your ability to consume adequate amounts of dietary protein, fats, fiber, and micronutrients, then you will very likely develop metabolic dysfunction including insulin resistance, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and/or type 2 diabetes. So, if this is you, you may want to reconsider your dietary selections and start increasing physical activity.
Will the occasional soft drink, sports drink, or frozen treat condemn you to an early grave?
Most likely not.
As with most things in life, anything consumed in excess can cause health risks. Sugar is no different. Remember, the dose makes the poison.
If you consume an otherwise healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get good amounts of sleep, then the occasional sugar-sweetened beverage likely does not pose any imminent risks to your health or longevity.
- Vasanti S. Malik, Yanping Li, An Pan, Lawrence De Koning, Eva Schernhammer, Walter C. Willett, Frank B. Hu. Long-Term Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Mortality in US Adults. Circulation, 2019; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.037401