Even One Soda a Day Can Hike Your Diabetes Risk
A soda a day? That's not so bad-a 150-calorie blip,
burned off with a brisk half-hour walk. But it's not only your waistline that's
at stake. A study released today in the journal Diabetes Care found that
people with a daily habit of just one or two sugar-sweetened beverages-anything
from sodas and energy drinks to sweetened teas and vitamin water-were more than
25 percent likelier to develop type
2 diabetes than were similar individuals who had no more than one sugary
drink per month. Since the overall rate of diabetes is roughly 1 in 10, an
increase of 25 percent raises the risk to about 1 in 8. One-a-day guzzlers in
the study also had a 20 percent higher rate of metabolic
syndrome, a collection of indicators such as high triglyceride levels
suggesting that diabetes is not far off.
"Previous studies have shown that sugar-sweetened
beverages are strongly associated with weight gain," says lead author
Vasanti Malik, a research fellow in the Harvard School of Public Health
Department of Nutrition, who says the decision to examine the relationship
between sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of diabetes was "the logical
The researchers conducted a study of studies-a
meta-analysis-to reach their conclusions. They identified eight studies with
enough data to let them check for a link between sugary drinks and type 2 diabetes and three similar studies of metabolic
syndrome. The largest diabetes study, which followed more than 91,000 American
women ages 24 to 44 for eight years, made the strongest case for a
relationship, and it wasn't just because higher consumption of sweetened drinks
added excess calories that turned into pounds. While weight gain is a known diabetes risk factor, the diabetes-beverage link persisted
even after adjusting for that. "Other factors independently put you at
risk for developing diabetes," says Malik.
The main one is spikes in blood glucose and insulin because sweetened drinks are often consumed
quickly and in large quantities and their sugar content is rapidly absorbed.
Frequent spiking can lead to insulin resistance, inflammation,
and hypertension-often precursors to diabetes. High-fructose corn syrup, the sugar in many
sweetened drinks, is emerging as possibly riskier than other sugars because it
seems to produce more belly fat. Fat that accumulates around the middle is
closely tied to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular
Americans love sweetened drinks. Consumption climbed to
an average of 142 calories a day, or nearly one 12-ounce can of soda, in 2006,
from 65 in the late 1970s. And many people down far more than that, notes Frank
Hu, a senior author of the study and a professor of nutrition and epidemiology
at Harvard, which puts them at a much greater risk of diabetes. A report from
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this week
projects that by 2050, 1 in 3 Americans will develop the disease. "Soft
drink consumption has significant public health implications in terms of the
diabetes epidemic," says Hu.
Earlier this year the American Heart Association issued a
recommendation advising consumers to set a limit on sweetened drinks of 450
calories a week, or three 12-ounce sodas, in a 2,000-calorie diet.
Calorie-counting is a convenient way to keep track, but it can be misleading.
"Consumers are overly focused on calories," says Constance
Brown-Riggs, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, who would
like people also to understand that a 12-ounce can of soda contains the
equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar. "They think it's not that bad, without
taking into consideration the other components that are putting them at
Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome aren't the only
risks of a one-a-day habit. In a 2004 study published in the Journal of the
American Medical Association of 88,000 women followed for 24 years, those
who guzzled two or more sugary drinks a day had a risk of coronary
artery disease 35 percent higher than non-guzzlers, even after adjusting
for other unhealthy lifestyle factors. "You receive no benefits out of
drinking these beverages," says Malik, who lists additional hazards from dental
cavities to gout.
"It's a wake-up call for the American public."
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