Study: The link between sugary drinks and type 2 diabetes is really, really strong

Little bottles, big kerfuffle.
Little bottles, big kerfuffle.
Image: Reuters/Darren Whiteside
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It’s not news that sugary drinks are bad for your health, but a new study published in British medical journal The BMJ puts their relationship to type 2 diabetes in stark relief.

Researchers from medical schools in the US, UK, Japan, and Finland conducted a meta-analysis of 17 studies to find the association between type 2 diabetes and regular consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened drinks, and/or fruit juice.

For adults in the US and UK, drinking just one extra sugar sweetened beverage a day over 10 years was associated with an 18% greater incidence of type 2 diabetes, they found. When that was adjusted for adiposity (a measure of body fat), that association dropped to a still high 13%.

The researchers also found links between artificially sweetened drinks and fruit juices and higher incidence of diabetes, but they were not as strong, they said. When controlling for adiposity, an extra serving of artificially sweetened drinks was associated with an 8% higher incidence of type 2 diabetes. Fruit juice was associated with a 7% higher incidence. (The researchers note, however, that the findings for artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice were limited by publication bias and other factors.)

Ultimately, the researchers concluded, “over 10 years two million type 2 diabetes events in the USA and 80,000 in the UK would be related to consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.”

The researchers recognized the limitations of their study, which they say are typical to any meta-analysis of observational studies. For example, if one of the studies in their review did not adequately control for other elements of subjects’ lifestyles, then this analysis would not have either.

Still, they say, the study has many public health implications. In the US, each type 2 diabetes case costs $9,800; in the UK, it costs $3,994. And while the results were not as strong for artificially sweetened drinks and fruit juice, they still say that neither are a good alternative to sugary drinks and that fruit juice is not a good way for children to consume more fruit and vegetables.