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10 Reasons Sugary Drinks are Making us Sicker and Fatter

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we're getting fatter and sicker on sugary drinks Photodisc/Thinkstock

Part II in a two-part series

When it comes to your health are sugary drinks really Public Enemy Number One?

About 100 medical, health and consumer groups, city public health departments and prominent individuals think so.

They're calling on the U.S. Surgeon General to investigate the health effects of soda and other sugary drinks similar to the one on tobacco in the 1960s.

In a July 19, 2012 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius calling for an investigation, the groups write, “Soda and other sugary drinks are the only food or beverage that has been directly linked to obesity, a major contributor to coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, and a cause of psychosocial problems. Yet, each year, the average American drinks about 40 gallons of sugary drinks, all with little, if any, nutritional benefit.”

Studies clearly show since the 1950, Americans have been consuming sugary drinks more often and in greater quantities than ever before.

Consumption of carbonated soft drinks rose by more than 450 percent, from 10.8 gallons per year per person in 1946 to 49.2 gallons per year per person in 2000. (3)

As consumption rates climb so does our weight and incidences of obesity-related health risks, according to scores of studies.

Here are 10 ways guzzling sugary drinks are negatively impacting our health:

1. A 20-year study on 120,000 men and women, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that people who increased their sugary drink consumption by one 12-ounce serving per day gained more weight over time — on average, an extra pound every 4 years — than people who did not change their intake.

Other studies have found a significant link between sugary drink consumption and weight gain in children. One study found that for each additional 12-ounce soda children consumed each day, the odds of becoming obese increased by 60 percent during 18 months of follow-up. (3)

2. A typical 20-ounce soda contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar and upwards of 240 calories. A 64-ounce fountain cola drink could have up to 700 calories, half of a person's daily caloric intake, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. (3)(4)

Researchers say sugary drinks, like soda, don't produce the same satiety, or satisfied feeling, that eating solid food produces, so you are less likely to consider the amount of calories you have digested and therefore, fail to compensate for those calories by eating less. (3)(4)

3. Studies published in American Journal of Clinical Studies and Pediatrics found children and adults who cut back on sugary drinks can help control their weight.

The Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trial, conducted by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, found replacing sugary drinks with no calorie drinks, like plain water, as a weight loss strategy resulted in average weight losses of 2 to 2.5 percent of a person’s total weight. That's about 15 pounds for an average size person. (2)(4)

4. A Harvard study that followed 40,000 men for two decades found that those who averaged one can of a sugary beverage per day had a 20 percent higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack than men who rarely consumed sugary drinks. A related study in women found a similar sugary beverage–heart disease link. (3)

5. A 2010 study conducted by University of Minnesota found drinking as little as two sugary soda pops a week nearly doubles the risk of pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease. The study followed 60,524 participants in the Singapore Chinese Health Study for 14 years. (5)

6. People who consume sugary drinks regularly — 1 to 2 12-ounce cans a day — (or more) have a 26 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who rarely have such drinks, a 2010 Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s hospital study found. Health risks are even greater in young adults and Asians. (3)(6)

7. A 2012 study that followed 40,000 men for two decades found those who averaged one can of a sugary beverage per day had a 20 percent higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack than men who rarely consumed sugary drinks even after other unhealthful lifestyle or dietary factors are accounted for. A related study in women found a similar sugary beverage–heart disease link. (3)

Unfortunately, diet soda doesn’t fare much better. A 2011 federally-funded study of 2,500 New York adults found daily diet soda drinkers had a higher risk for stroke and heart attack than people who drank no soda. The Harvard study was discussed at the 2012 International Stroke Association conference in Los Angeles.

8. A 2000 study published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found a significant association between drinking carbonated soft drinks and bone fractures among teenage girls. Other studies have found similar results for teenage boys. (3) A new UK study found muscle deterioration occurs after just four weeks of regular sugary drink consumption.(10)

“Having seen all the medical evidence I don’t touch soft drinks now,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Kubis, a biological scientist and expert in exercise nutrition at the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences at Bangor University in Wales.

“I think drinks with added sugar are frankly, evil,” he said.

Kubis led research that found sugary drinks deteriorate the muscles of males and females in just one month. The 2012 study was published online in the European Journal of Nutrition.(10)

“Not only can regular sugar intake acutely change our body metabolism; in fact it seems that our muscles are able to sense the sugars and make our metabolism more inefficient, not only in the present but in the future as well,” Kubis said in a written statement.

“This will lead [to] a reduced ability to burn fat and to fat gain. Moreover, it will make it more difficult for our body to cope with rises in blood sugar.

“What is clear here is that our body adjusts to regular soft drink consumption and prepares itself for the future diet by changing muscle metabolism via altered gene activity – encouraging unhealthy adaptations similar to those seen in people with obesity problems and type 2 diabetes,” Kubis said.

9. A 22-year study of 80,000 women found that those who consumed just one can of sugary drink each day had a 75 percent higher risk of gout, than women who rarely had such drinks. The risk increased as the amount of sugary drinks increased, according to the study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Gout is an inflammatory condition caused by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood that deposit in the joints. Researchers also found a similarly elevated risk in men. (11)(3)

10. All soft drinks (especially non-cola beverages) and some sports and energy drinks, appear to “aggressively” erode teeth enamel causing “rampant dental decay” in all age groups — and it didn’t matter whether they were diet drinks or regular ones, according to a study published in General Dentistry.

While tooth decay from refined sugars is well established, in laboratory tests, the underlying acidity of beverages is believed to be the primary factor in the development of tooth decay, the study said.(11) A separate 2009 Chinese study found similar results.(12)

Thinking you need something healthier to drink? Harvard School of Public Health offers six refreshing alternatives at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/low-sugar-drink-ideas/index.html/

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer and Scuba enthusiast living in San Diego, CA with her husband and two beach loving dogs. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.

Sources and Consumer Information:

1. “Healthy Beverage Guidelines.” The Nutrition Source. Accessed 22 August 2012 at:

2. ”Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: Main results of the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trial.” Tate DF, Turner-McGrievy G, Lyons E, Stevens J, Erickson K, Polzien K, Diamond M, Wang X, Popkin B. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Mar;95(3):555-63. Epub 2012 Feb 1.
Access abstract at:

3. Sugary drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet. The Nutrition Source. Harvard School of Public Health. Accessed 21 August 22, 2012 at:

4. US Department of Agriculture. Nutrient data for 14400, Carbonated beverage, cola, contains caffeine. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Released 24. 2012. Accessed August 21, 2012,

5. “Soft drink and Juice Consumption and Risk of Panceatic Cancer: The Singapore Chinese Health Study.” Mark Pereira et al. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev February 2010 19; 447 doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-09-0862.

Abstract/article at: ttp://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/19/2/447.abstract

6. ”Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta analysis.” Diabetes Care. 2010 Nov;33(11):2477-83. Epub 2010 Aug 6. Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Despres JP, Willett WC, Hu FB. Abstract/article at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20693348

7. “Sweetened beverage consumption, incident coronary heart disease and biomarkers of risk in men.” de Koning L, Malik VS, Kellogg MD, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Circulation. 2012;125:1735-41, S1.

8. Fung TT, Malik V, Rexrode KM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;89:1037-42.

9. ”Teenage girls, carbonated beverage consumption and bone fractures.” Wyshak G. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 2000, 154(6):610-613. Access abstract at:


10. Fructose-rich beverages and risk of gout in women. JAMA, 2010;304:2270- Choi HK, Willett W, Curhan G. Access abstract at:

11. ”Dissolution of dental enamel in soft drinks” J. Anthony von Fraunhofer, MSc, PhD, FADM, FRSC and Matthew M. Rogers, DDS. General Dentistry. July-August 2004. Access at:

12. “Dental erosion and severe tooth decay related to soft drinks:a case report ad literature review.” Ran Cheng, Hui Yang, Mei-ying Shao, Tao Hu, Xue-dong Zhou.
J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2009 May; 10(5): 395–399.
doi: 10.1631/jzus.B0820245 Accessed at:


Reviewed August 29, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment1 Comments


Great job with educating people how bad these drinks are for your teeth and overall health.

Marielaina Perrone DDS

October 6, 2012 - 10:39am
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