Diabetes, Obesity, and 25,000 US Deaths Tied to Sugary Drinks, Harvard Study Says

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Sugary beverages were associated with 183,000 obesity-related deaths globally in 2010 with 25,000 in the United States alone, according to new research from Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions, linked sugar-sweetened drinks to 133,000 diabetes deaths, 44,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases, and 6,000 cancer deaths in 2010. 78% of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries, according to the report.

The American Beverage Association released a statement blasting the study: “This abstract, which is not peer-reviewed nor published in a way where its methodology can be fully evaluated, is more about sensationalism than science.  It does not show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer – the real causes of death among the studied subjects. The researchers make a huge leap when they take beverage intake calculations from around the globe and allege that those beverages are the cause of deaths which the authors themselves acknowledge are due to chronic disease.”

“[Our results] should push policy makers world-wide to make effective policies to reduce consumption of sugary beverages, such as taxation, mass-media campaigns, and reducing availability of these drinks,” said Gitanjali M. Singh, PhD, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. “I think our findings should really impel policymakers to make effective policies to reduce sugary beverage consumption since it causes a significant number of deaths,” said Singh, adding that she thinks “cause” is an appropriate word despite the limitations of the association study.

Researchers categorized the quantity of sugary-drink consumption globally by age and sex and analyzed the effects of this consumption on obesity- and diabetes-related death. Of nine world regions, Latin America/Caribbean had the most diabetes deaths (38,000) related to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in 2010 while East/Central Eurasia had the largest numbers of deaths from cardiovascular diseases (11,000). The United States ranked number 3 with 25,000 total sugary drink-related deaths in 2010. Among the world’s 15 most populous countries, Mexico (the country with the highest per-capita consumption of sugary beverages) had the highest death rate due to the beverages at 318 deaths per million adults. Japan (the country with the lowest per-capita consumption of sugary beverages) had the lowest death rate at 10 deaths per million adults.

According to an Oct. 31, 2011 peer-reviewed study published by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, sugary drinks are the number one source of calories among American adolescents. The World Health Organization reports that the United States has an average national obesity rate of 33.9%, making it the ninth most obese country in the world and the most obese “industrialized country” with second place New Zealand (26.5%) and third place Canada (23.1%) several percentage points behind.


American Beverage Association, “American Beverage Association Comments on Poster Session on Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Intake,” ameribev.org, Mar. 19, 2013

Katie Moisse, “25,000 US Deaths Linked to Sugary Drinks,” abcnews.go.com, Mar. 19, 2013

Nature World News, “Sugary Drinks Behind Obesity-Related Deaths: Harvard Study,” natureworldnews.com, Mar. 20, 2013

Christian Nordqvist, “Sugary Drinks Industry Aggressively Targeting Children and Teenagers,” medicalnewstoday.com, Oct. 31, 2011

Joseph Nordqvist, “Sugary Beverage Consumption Linked to 180,000 Deaths Per Year,” medicalnewstoday.com, Mar. 20, 2013

Darcy Spitz, “180,000 Deaths Worldwide May Be Associated with Sugary Soft Drinks,” eurekalert.org, Mar. 19, 2013

Alice G. Walton, “The Top Countries for Sugary Drink-Related Deaths: US Ranks Third,” forbes.com, Mar. 19, 2013