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A Legal Addiction – How Sugary Drinks Slowly Kill Us

Admit it, modern life relies too much on the soda machines and cabinets found in convenience stores. Most of us think that healthy drinks and unhealthy drinks are easy to tell apart and that the consumption of unhealthy drinks is easy to restrict, but that isn’t true. Although our parents always tell us not to drink cola, we just can’t quit it. Or, to take a step back, we turn to diet soda, energy drinks, and juice drinks advertised to be more “healthy”. Recently, a study led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reminded us of the harm of sugary drinks, warning us about the link between sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and early deaths.

Published in March 2019 in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, the study suggests a positive correlation between the consumption of SSBs and mortality based on 36,436 deaths documented from over 30 years of tracking 118,000 individuals. After adjusting for major health-related variables, the study presents a straightforward conclusion that the more SSBs people consumed, the higher their risk of death. Numerically, every additional 12 ounces of SSBs consumed per day gives rise to 7% increased total mortality, 5% increased cancer mortality, and 10% increased cardiovascular mortality.

Needless to say, the numbers speak for themselves. SSBs – including soft drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks – now make up the largest source of added sugar in the U.S. diet. “The optimal intake of these drinks is zero,” suggested Vasanti Malik, the lead author of the aforementioned study. However, it is nevertheless difficult for many people to remove sugar from their diet, making an addiction to sugar a “legal addiction”. If that is the case for you, check the nutrition table and do the simple math before you buy a product like lemonade since the maximum daily doses of added sugars are 37.5 grams for men and 25 grams for women, as recommended by the American Heart Association.

This brings up questions about drinks such as diet coke. The good news is that researchers found that substituting SSBs with their diet versions (artificially-sweetened beverages) could lower the risk of death. However, drinking four or more ASBs per day still exhibits a positive association with increased mortality in women, although this connection needs further confirmation. In short, the risk of ASBs is unclear but present, so don’t risk your health by over-consuming ASBs, especially if you’re a woman.

In the past, we heard of many studies on the association between sugary drinks and all kinds of diseases, including obesity, Type II diabetes, and heart diseases. Even intuitively, we know that sugary drinks are bad for us because of their high calorie count and lengthy ingredient lists. Harvard’s new research provides further support for this association from the perspective of public health and mass data, and, hopefully, it raises new concerns about sugary drinks among consumers. I know I certainly hope we can all choose wisely next time we're standing in front of vending machines.

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