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Harvard study: Sugary drinks associated with greater risk of premature death

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press/File/Associated Press

People who drank more sugar-sweetened beverages had a greater risk of premature death, particularly from cardiovascular disease and to a lesser extent from cancer, according to a new study led by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health..

“Our results provide further support to limit intake of [sugar-sweetened beverages] and to replace them with other beverages, preferably water, to improve overall health and longevity,” Vasanti Malik, research scientist in the Department of Nutrition and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The drinks include carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks. Researchers said that they were the single largest source of added sugar in the US diet. The new study was published Monday in the journal Circulation.


Researchers looked at data from 80,647 women participating in one study and from 37,716 men in another study. After adjusting for major diet and lifestyle factors, the researchers found an increasing risk of early death for those drinking more sugary drinks.

People who drank two or more per day had a 21 percent increased risk of early death, compared with people who consumed such drinks less than once a month.

The risk was even worse for early death from cardiovascular disease. Those who drank two or more sugary drinks a day had a 31 percent higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease.

Researchers said they also found a modest link between sugary drinks and early death from cancer.

“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.” Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition, said in the statement.

Researchers also looked at artificially-sweetened beverages, finding that replacing sugary drinks with artificially-sweetened ones was linked with moderately lower risk of early death. But they also found a high intake of artificially-sweetened drinks (four or more per day) was linked to a slightly increased risk of overall and cardiovascular-related death among women, so they cautioned against overimbibing those types of drinks.


The American Beverage Association said in a statement, “Soft drinks, like all the beverages made by our industry, are safe to consume as part of a balanced diet. The sugar used in our beverages is the same as sugar used in other food products. We don’t think anyone should overconsume sugar, that’s why we’re working to reduce the sugar people consume from beverages across the country. Additionally, low- and no-calorie sweeteners have been repeatedly confirmed as safe by regulatory bodies around the world.”