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Increasing Soda Consumption Fuels Rise in Diabetes, Heart Disease

Finding suggests new health policies could make a dent in the problem, researcher says

FRIDAY, March 5 (HealthDay News) --Increasing consumption of sugary soft drinks contributed to 130,000 new cases of diabetes, 14,000 new cases of heart disease and 50,000 more life-years burdened with heart disease in the last decade, a new U.S. study finds.

"The finding suggests that any kind of policy that reduces consumption might have a dramatic health benefit," said senior study author Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who was to present the finding Friday during the American Heart Association's Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention annual conference, in San Francisco.

The study used a computer simulation of heart disease that has been applied to other cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity and dietary salt, Bibbins-Domingo explained. "We probably underestimated the incidence, because the rise is greatest among the young, and our model focuses on adults 35 and older," she said.

One plausible explanation is that the increased incidence of cardiovascular problems is due to a rising incidence of diabetes, Bibbins-Domingo said, while an increase in obesity might also be responsible.

"Whatever the mechanism, large population studies do suggest an effect of drinking large lots of sweetened beverages," she said. "No one argues that these drinks are not fine in moderation, but over the past decade their consumption has been on the rise, while consumption of other beverages has declined."

A statement by Maureen Storey, senior vice president for science policy for the American Beverage Association, noted that the study had not yet been published in a scientific journal, and therefore had not undergone review by outside, qualified scientists.

"What we do know is that both heart disease and diabetes are complex conditions with no single cause and no single solution," Storey said in the statement, which noted that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is not listed as a risk factor by the American Heart Association. "Rather, we need to continue to educate Americans about the importance of balancing the calories from the foods and beverages we eat and drink with regular physical activity."

But the study does suggest that any kind of policy that reduces consumption might have a health benefit, Bibbins-Domingo noted. One such policy is a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, she noted. "The reason why there is a current debate about a tax is that scientific evidence in populations has consistently shown that more than one drink a day increases your risk," she said.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks such as soda pop, while "alternative choices are available," said Dr. Robert H. Eckel, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado and a past president of the association.

"Juice from fruit itself is nutrient-rich, and its nutritional value goes beyond the carbohydrate content," Eckel said.

The recommended daily sugar intake amounts to just one can of sugar-sweetened soda a day for a man and slightly less for women, he said.

More information

The cardiovascular effects of dietary sugar are described by the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, M.D., associate professor, medicine, University of California, San Francisco; Robert H. Eckel, professor, medicine, University of Colorado, Denver; March 5, 2010, presentation, American Heart Association's Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention annual conference, San Francisco

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