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New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to ban the sale of super-sized sugary beverages within the city may have been met with skepticism by some, but a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health underscores just how devastatingly unhealthy these drinks can be. By looking at the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in 114 countries and correlating that data with rates of obesity-related deaths—that is, deaths resulting from heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers—the study found that sodas and their kin could be responsible for over 180,000 premature deaths each year—25,000 of those in the US alone.
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The five-year study was led by Gitanjali M. Singh, a post-doctoral researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, who presented her preliminary findings at a meeting of the American Heart Association this week. Among the 180,000 obesity-related deaths Singh’s research attributes to sugar-sweetend beverages, 133,000 of those are from diabetes, 44,000 are from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 are from cancer.
While the US has a strikingly large number of soda-related premature deaths—25,000 each year—the study found that Mexico had the highest rate, a nation in which, as CNN points out, has an average per-person soda consumption of 24 ounces per day. Speaking to CNN, study co-author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, co-director of the cardiovascular epidemiology program at the Harvard School of Public Health explained “[a]lmost three-quarters of the deaths caused by sugary drinks are in low and middle income countries.. [s]o this is not just a problem in wealthy nations.”
Moreover, as well as largely affecting low- and middle-income countries, soda-related deaths are primarily found to occur amongst the relatively young; in the US “death rates were highest in young adults under age 45, with one in 10 obesity-related deaths associated with sugary beverages,” with other nations following a similar pattern.
Unsurprisingly, the American Beverage Association has dismissed the study as “sensationalism” and not science. But with sugar-laden drinks such as soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, etc. forming the biggest source of calories in the US diet, the report’s authors believe that their findings should compel legislative change—far beyond simply limiting the size of beverage sold. Report co-author Singh explained “Our study shows that tens of thousands of deaths worldwide are caused by drinking sugary beverages and this should impel policy makers to make strong policies to reduce consumption of sugary beverages.”