The US leads the world in soda-related deaths, but poor countries suffer the most

A can of sugar.
A can of sugar.
Image: Reuters/Sam Hodgson
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Regardless whether you drink sweetened ice tea, sports drinks, or soda, one thing is clear: sugary drinks are a health hazard. New research shows that beverages sweetened with sugar may have contributed to up to 184,000 deaths globally, mostly by causing increased rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

The United States led the death toll, with 25,000 annual deaths linked to sweetened drinks in 2010, but it’s low- and middle-income countries that get hit the hardest, accounting for 75% of global soda-related deaths. On a per capita basis, Mexico had the highest death count, 405 per million adults. Mexico consumes far more soda per person than any country in the world.

The global analysis comes from Tufts University and was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. Researchers estimated the consumption of sugary drinks that have 50 calories or more in an 8 oz (225 g) serving, based on dietary surveys conducted between 1980 and 2010 in 51 countries, and the availability of sugar in 187 countries.

Drawing on existing research on how sugary drinks lead to obesity—which in turn contributes to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, gall bladder, kidney, pancreas and ovaries—and then estimated how much soda and similar beverages contributed to those deaths.

The study, which is not a randomized control trial, doesn’t make a direct connection between sugary drinks and all those deaths, but researchers hope it will raise awareness about the drastic health effects of sweetened beverage consumption.

In a statement to NBC, the American Beverage Association trade group said the study “does not show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases.” Study author Dariush Mozaffarian countered: “I think that if the beverage industry says we’re not sure that soda causes obesity, they’re just putting their heads in the sand.”