Soft drinks are hard on health

lifestyle March 29, 2012 00:00

By Dr Gerard Lalande
Special to

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Suspicions that the high quantity of sugar in sweetened beverages posed a danger to people with heart and metabolic illnesses – and anyone else, for that matter – were unsubstantiated until fairly recently.

Several well-conducted studies in the US and Britain this decade shed new light on the deleterious effects of so-called soft drinks, particularly in regard to obesity, heart disease and Type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes.

Diabetes is related to a high level of blood glucose, the body’s natural sugar. A 2010 study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages per day was associated with a 26-per-cent increase in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, a level of risk quite similar to that of smoking. Smoking and drinking soft drinks boost each other’s negative effects.

Soda junkies should also be alarmed that other trials have shown an increased risk of metabolic disease from drinking artificially sweetened “diet sodas” as well.

Obesity, and especially childhood obesity, is rising dramatically everywhere on the planet. A 2005 report found that carbonated soft drinks are the single largest source of calories in the American diet. Adolescents drank more than anyone, with 62 per cent of them downing one or more sodas every day.

In 2009 UCLA Health Policy researchers found that adults who drank a soda or more per day were 27 per cent more likely to be overweight than those who drank no soda. The reason is simple: Every can of soda contains lots of sugar that represents an added, unnecessary source of calories for the body.

A 330ml can contains roughly 140 calories of sugar – the equivalent of 10 sugar cubes. Assuming that those 140 calories are added daily and retained, we’re talking about 50,000 calories per year, which would translate to six kilograms in body weight.

Yale University’s director of Food Policy and Obesity has pointed out that, while no one believes there is a single cause of obesity, soft drinks are among the leading contributors.

As to the cardiovascular effects, the relation between drinking sodas and higher blood pressure was clearly established last year at the Imperial College of London. The 22-year study in the US linked sugary drinks to a 20-per-cent jump in the risk of heart attack, as well as adverse changes in blood lipids and the markers of vascular inflammation.

It is not yet known exactly how cardiac risk ties in with soda consumption, but excess glucose in the blood is known to harm the cells that produce insulin, the hormone that’s lacking in diabetes, as well as other tissues.

As one of the study’s authors stated, the link between soda drinking and cardio-metabolic disease has definitely been an overlooked public-health problem. Parents and school administrators need to curtail the common habit of drinking a soda at mealtimes instead of water.

More importantly, health authorities must seriously address this growing issue in public health, especially among younger people.

Dr Gerard Lalande is managing director of CEO-Health, which provides medical referrals for expatriates and customised executive medical check-ups in Thailand. He can be contacted at