Before we begin, can I get you something? Coffee? Tea? Water?

Maybe a glass of wine or a beer?

Anything you like. Anything that is, except soda. (Or "pop," or a "soft drink." Whatever they call it in your part of the world.)

The reason: A new study of almost 452,000 people, just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that "greater consumption of total, sugar-sweetened, and artificially sweetened soft drinks was associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality."

That's a nice euphemism, isn't it? "All-cause mortality."

In other words: Drink soda, die sooner.

We can't claim to know there's a causation, but there's a clear correlation according to this study.

So, before we go any further, here are a few things this might mean for you:

  1. Stop drinking soda. Maybe as a special treat once in a while if you really like it, but get out of the habit. I've done it, pretty close to 100 percent. It wasn't that hard.
  2. If you run a business, and you offer free drinks for your employees, push hard on the non-carbonated beverages. 
  3. The customer is always right, of course, but when entertaining visitors, maybe offer coffee, tea, or water.

Drilling down, here's how the study in the JAMA worked.

A group of 50 researchers, led by Dr. Neil Murphy at the International Agency for Research on Cancer at the World Health Organization (no relation to your humble author, as far as I know), looked at data collected over eight years, from 1992 to 2000.

This was a European study -- the participants were from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Spain, and Sweden. But it was massive in scope, following the health and habits of 451,743 people.

The results:

  • People who drank two glasses per day of "sugar-sweetened soft drinks" wound up with a higher rate of death from digestive diseases, which is a category including things like diseases of the liver, the pancreas, the appendix, the intestines, etc.
  • People who drank two glasses per day of artificially sweetened soft drinks wound up with different health problems: a higher risk of death from "circulatory diseases," which includes things like diseases of the heart and arteries.

Before you point out that two glasses sounds like a lot, they addressed this (deep in the study, but it's in there).

One "glass" was considered to be about 250 milliliters, so the "two glasses a day" standard is 500 milliliters. Since we don't generally use the metric system in the U.S. let's show what that actually means:

  • A single 12-ounce can is about about 355 milliliters. 
  • A 16-ounce bottle is about 473 milliliters.
  • A medium-sized soda at McDonald's is 21 ounces, which works out to 621 milliliters.

In short, if you're averaging a normal, American-sized soda a day, sugar-sweetened or not, you're drinking roughly at least what this study examined.

Personally, I pretty much cut both sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened sodas out of my diet after reporting on two big studies that came up with similar bad news in 2017. 

One study looked at 4,000 people who drank sugary sodas and found they correlated with a higher risk of Alzheimer's Disease. The other one that focused on another 4,000-plus people who drank non-sugar sodas, and found they were much more likely to develop stroke or dementia.

Again, it's left for some other study down the road to prove or disprove causation. But correlation seems clear.

Still, I don't think the industry is going to go away over these kinds of studies.

"Soft drinks are safe to consume as part of a balanced diet and the authors of this study acknowledge their research does not indicate otherwise," a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, William Dermody, told MarketWatch when it reported on this study. 

You make the call. Personally, much like Justice Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Supreme Court, I like beer. And wine. And coffee (which has amazing health benefits), and tea.

Oh, and water. Maybe we're all just better off with water.

Published on: Sep 3, 2019
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