Sugar sweetened drinks may give rise to nearly two million diabetes cases over ten years in the US and 80,000 in the UK, estimates a study published in the BMJ.

Substituting sugar sweetened drinks with artificially sweetened drinks or fruit juice is unlikely to be the best strategy in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Fumiaki Imamura

An international team of researchers led by the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge set out to assess whether or not habitual consumption of sugar sweetened drinks, artificially sweetened drinks, or fruit juice was associated with the incidence of type 2 diabetes – and to estimate the 10-year risk attributable to sugar sweetened drinks in the USA and UK.

The researchers analysed the results of 17 observational studies and found that habitual consumption of sugar sweetened drinks was positively associated with incidence of type 2 diabetes, independently of obesity status.

The association between artificially sweetened drinks or fruit juice and type 2 diabetes was less evident. Yet, the researchers found little evidence for benefits of these beverages, and therefore concluded these drinks are unlikely to be healthy alternatives to sugar sweetened drinks for preventing type 2 diabetes.

The researchers point out that the studies analysed were observational, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. However, assuming a causal association, they estimate that two million new-onset type 2 diabetes events in the USA and 80,000 in the UK from 2010 to 2020 would be related to consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.

This latest review builds on ongoing research into the health impact of sugar sweetened drinks, including recent findings from the EPIC-InterAct study in eight European countries as well as work in the EPIC-Norfolk study in the UK, which found that drinking water or unsweetened tea or coffee in place of one sugary drink per day can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Dr Fumiaki Imamura, lead author of the study at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, said: “These findings together indicate that substituting sugar sweetened drinks with artificially sweetened drinks or fruit juice is unlikely to be the best strategy in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes: water or other unsweetened beverages are better options.”

Dr Nita Forouhi, senior author of the study at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, said: “Our new findings provide further evidence to support the recent UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommendation that minimising the consumption of sugary drinks presents a clear opportunity towards the goal of free sugars contributing to no more than 5% of daily energy intake and to improve health.”

The study was supported by the Medical Research Council.

Reference
Imamura, F et al. Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, and fruit juice and incidence of type 2 diabetes: systematic review, meta-analysis, and estimation of population attributable fraction. The BMJ 21 July 2015.

Adapted from a press release from The BMJ.


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