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Study:  Sugared Soft Drinks Linked to Diabetes - 2004-08-24

The world loves carbonated soft drinks, and no one loves them more than Americans. But a new U.S. study shows that consumption of these sugar-sweetened beverages has a health cost. The study of women finds that those who drink sugared beverages daily are much more likely to gain weight and to develop diabetes.

Call it soda, pop, or just plain liquid candy. The average 360-milliliter can contains about 40 grams of refined sugar. That is about 10 teaspoons of sugar.

According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, a U.S. trade group, carbonated soft drinks are the third most-consumed beverage in the world. The global annual consumption per person is about 30 liters. U.S. consumption is seven times that, about 210 liters per person.

Melitta King is typical.

"Especially when its hot out, it tastes good," she says.

But a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that people like Ms. King face a severe health risk when they drink soda pop. The physician who led the research is Dr. Meir Stampher of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

"Women who were drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks every day or more than once a day had an 80 percent increase in risk of diabetes compared with women who hardly ever drank sugared sodas," said Dr. Stampher.

Dr. Stampher speaks of type 2 diabetes, the more common kind that usually appears in adulthood.

He and his colleagues reached their findings after reviewing data from a national survey of about 50,000 women between 1991 and 1999. The researchers focused on beverage drinking and diabetes data from the survey.

They found that frequent consumption of sugared drinks, including fruit punch, leads to weight gain, which is a major cause of diabetes. Women who had increased their consumption over a four-year period from one or fewer drinks per week to one or more per day gained an average of about 4.5 kilograms and, therefore, the 80 percent increased diabetes risk.

Dr. Stampher calls it a dangerous chemical cycle in the blood.

"The sugared soft-drinks are very rapidly absorbed and they cause a sharp up-swing in blood sugar, which causes a sharp increase in insulin production, and then this causes the blood sugar to go down," he adds.

Diabetes results when the body's production of the hormone insulin weakens and cannot lower blood sugar. The condition is potentially fatal, because without regular insulin injections, a sufferer lapses into a coma and dies.

The World Health Organization says a global type 2 diabetes epidemic is under way. It estimates that 30 million people had it 20 years ago, but says the number is five times that now because of population growth, poor diets, obesity, and sedentary lifestyles, and is likely to double to 300 million by 2025. Dr. Stampher says 17 million of the sufferers live in the United States.

"Rates of diabetes are skyrocketing," he notes. "At the same time, over the last couple of decades, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has increased."

The Harvard physician says that public health strategies to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes should focus on reducing consumption of sugared beverages.