Harvard study shows long-term sweetened beverage consumption linked with higher risk of mortality

The more sugar-sweetened beverages people consumed, the greater their risk of premature death, particularly from cardiovascular disease, according to a large long-term study of U.S. men and women led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and published in the journal Circulation.

The study, announced this morning by the university, also found that drinking one artificially sweetened beverage per day instead of a sugary one lowered the risk of premature death.

In the new study, researchers analyzed data from 80,647 women participating in the Nurses' Health Study and from 37,716 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. For both studies, participants answered questionnaires about lifestyle factors and health status every two years.

After adjusting for major diet and lifestyle factors, the researchers found that the more sugar-sweetened beverages a person drank, the more his or her risk of early death from any cause increased. Compared with drinking sugar-sweetened beverages less than once per month, drinking one to four sugary drinks per month was linked with a 1 percent increased risk; two to six per week with a 6 percent increase; one to two per day with a 14 percent increase; and two or more per day with a 21 percent increase. The increased early death risk linked with sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was more pronounced among women than among men, researchers said.

There was a particularly strong link between drinking sugary beverages and increased risk of early death from cardiovascular disease, according to the study. Compared with infrequent sugar-sweetened beverage drinkers, those who drank two or more servings per day had a 31 percent higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease. Each additional serving per day of sugar-sweetened beverage was linked with a 10 percent increased higher risk of cardiovascular disease-related death.

"These findings are consistent with the known adverse effects of high sugar intake on metabolic risk factors and the strong evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, itself a major risk factor for premature death,” said Walter Willett, PhD, professor of epidemiology and nutrition. “The results also provide further support for policies to limit marketing of sugary beverages to children and adolescents and for implementing soda taxes because the current price of sugary beverages does not include the high costs of treating the consequences.”