Type 2 diabetes and heart disease among health risks for people drinking more than two glasses of soft drinks, according to a new study.

Researchers have released the figures from a Europe-wide study of almost half a million people that found those who drank two or more glasses of soft drink a day were 17% more likely to have died during the study, compared to people who drank less than one soft drink a month.

A group of researchers, led by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France, asked more than 450,000 adults (average age 51) from 10 European countries about their consumption of soft drinks over a 16-year period.

Soft drinks in the study included sugary and artificially sweetened fizzy drinks such as cola as well as diluted cordial.

The results were recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, where study authors concluded: “Consumption of total, sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened soft drinks was positively associated with all-cause deaths in this large European study. The results are supportive of public health campaigns aimed at limiting the consumption of soft drinks.”

An NHS Behind the Headlines analysis of the report concluded: “This is not the first study to find a link between sugary soft drinks and poorer health. Doctors think that sugary soft drinks contribute to people becoming overweight, and also increase the chances type 2 diabetes by causing sugar “spikes” in the blood when consumed.

“The situation is less clear when it comes to artificially sweetened soft drinks. Studies have had conflicting results. Although artificial sweeteners have no or low calories, some studies have suggested they may also cause spikes in blood sugar.

“However, the study has limitations that mean we should treat the results with caution. It is a cross-sectional study, which means we only know what people were eating and drinking at 1 point in time. Although the researchers tried to account for a range of potential confounding factors, there may be other factors affecting the results. For that reason we cannot say that soft drinks caused higher death rates.

“One possibility is that people who drank more artificially sweetened soft drinks did so because they were worried about their weight or had other health concerns, so switched from sugary drinks to what they thought were healthier options. That would mean that people choosing artificially sweetened drinks were already less healthy than those who drank sugary soft drinks at the start of the study.

“So there's no need to panic about the headlines suggesting that diet drinks will shorten your life.

“Taking all that into account, it remains the case that drinking a lot of soft drinks is not recommended as part of a healthy diet. Water and unsweetened tea or coffee are likely to be healthier options. Replacing soft drinks with tap water is not only likely to be healthier but could save you a lot of money.”

Read the report in JAMA Internal Medicine
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