obesityIn a development that’s certain to generate controversy, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health say they’ve linked sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks to 180,000 deaths worldwide each year

Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to excess body weight, which increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain kinds of cancer – a link which should help shape public policy, according to some health advocates.

The governor of Mississippi - the most obese state in the U.S. - signed a bill preventing municipalities from setting limits on soda.

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s attempt to do just that – by banning super-sized servings of sugary beverages in his city – was recently overturned by the court.

Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi –  the most obese state in the U.S. -- signed a bill preventing municipalities from setting limits on soda and salt content.

“It is simply not the role of government to micro-regulate citizens’ dietary decisions,” Bryant said in a statement. “The responsibility for one’s personal health depends on individual choices about a proper diet and appropriate exercise.”

Seven out of ten adults in Mississippi are obese or overweight. According to the state Department of Public Health, Mississippi ranks second in the U.S. in diabetes prevalence, with 12 percent of the population having Type 2 diabetes.

Highest consumption = highest death rates, say researchers

The Harvard researchers say they've crunched the numbers and determined that sugar-sweetened beverages cause the following, annually:

  • 133,000 deaths from diabetes and its complications
  • 44,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases and
  • 6,000 cancer deaths

The problem is more prevalent in some parts of the world than in others. Seventy-eight percent of the deaths attributed to over-consuming sugary drinks were in low and middle-income countries, rather than high-income countries. The Latin America and Caribbean region had the most diabetes deaths related to the consumption ofsugar-sweetened beverages in 2010. East/Central Eurasia led in cardiovascular deaths.

Mexico -- one of the countries with the highest per-capita consumption of sugary beverages in the world -- had the highest death rate due to these beverages, with 318 deaths per million adults linked to sugar-sweetened beverage intake.

Japan, one of the countries with lowest per-capita consumption of sugary beverages in the world, had the lowest death rate associated with the consumption of sugary beverages, at about 10 deaths due to per million adults.

“In the U.S., our research shows that about 25,000 deaths in 2010 were linked to drinking sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Gitanjali M. Singh, Ph.D., co-author of the study

More "sensationalism than science"

The American Beverage Association (ABA) said the report is more about “sensationalism than science,” and that researchers failed to show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages actually cause the diseases blamed for fatalities in the study.

“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,” said the ABA in a statement.

The study’s authors note that their focus was on adults, and that future research should look at children’s consumption of sugary beverages – and how it might affect their health.

The research was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions.

The American Heart Association recommends adults consume no more than 450 calories per week from sugar-sweetened beverages, based on a 2,000 calorie diet and offers tips on how Life’s Simple 7™ to help people make better lifestyle choices and eat healthier.

Co-authors are Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.PH. (senior author); Renata Micha, Ph.D.; Shahab Katibzadeh, M.D., M.P.H.; Stephen Lim, Ph.D.; and Majid Ezzati, Ph.D. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.