Sugar-sweetened beverages may be to blame for about 180,000 deaths worldwide each year, according to a report by the American Heart Association.
Sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks sweetened with sugar contribute to excess body fat, which is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. Based on data from the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study, researchers tied the consumption of sugary drinks to 133,000 diabetes-related deaths, 44,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases and 6,000 deaths from cancer.
Nearly 80% of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with the Latin American/Caribbean region experiencing 38,000 diabetes-related deaths associated with sugary beverages, and 11,000 cardiovascular deaths in east and central Eurasia. Mexico, which has one of the highest per-capita consumptions of sugar-sweetened drinks, also had the highest related death rate (318 deaths per million adults), while Japan was at the other end of the spectrum with a low per-capita consumption and low death rate (10 deaths per million adults).
And despite obesity-fighting efforts in the U.S., research indicated that about 25,000 adult deaths in 2010 could be tied to drinking these beverages.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been at the forefront of this war on obesity and soft drinks, attempting to tackle it by preventing the sale of larger-sized versions of these beverages. Yet this month, one day before the limit—no more than 16 ounces—on sugary soft drinks was to go into effect, a New York Supreme Court justice issued an injunction blocking the measure.
But as legislative attempts to confront the issue appear to flounder, hospitals and health systems
are beginning to do more than simply offer advice to their patients. For example, Sentara in Norfolk, Va., offers quarterly appointments with health coaches for its employees, as well as premium-lowering incentives to encourage participation. And in Jacksonville, Fla., Nemours—one of the country's largest children's health systems—has created Healthy Choices Clinic, an outpatient clinic to provide programs for childhood weight management.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of children and adolescents were classified as overweight or obese in 2010, the same year that study data was collected. However, young people were not included in the American Heart Association's research.
“Because we were focused on deaths due to chronic diseases, our study focused on adults,” Gitanjali Singh, study co-author and postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston
, said in a release. “Future research should assess the amount of sugary beverage consumption in children across the world and how this affects their current and future health.”
Singh's co-authors for the report included Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Renata Micha, Dr. Shahab Katibzadeh, Stephen Lim and Majid Ezzati. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases funded the study.