Liquid candy is killing us.
So say the results of a new study, which holds sugary drinks responsible for the death of 1,600 Canadians annually.
That’s more than four deaths per day, and higher than most other wealthy industrialized countries, said Dariush Mozaffarian, senior author and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.
“We know that sugar-sweetened beverages are cause-and-effect for obesity and diabetes,” he told the Toronto Star. “There’s no intrinsic health value to it. There’s plenty of replacements. This is an easy problem to fix.
“We just have to stop drinking sugary beverages,” he added.
Those beverages include soda pop, energy and sports drinks as well as fruit beverages, sweetened iced teas and homemade sugary drinks like frescas.
The global report, published recently in the journal Circulation, evaluated statistics to estimate how many deaths were directly attributable to sugar-sweetened beverages in 2010. The conclusion: 184,000 worldwide.
The study found that diabetes induced by excessive consumption of sugary beverages was responsible for more than 70 per cent of those deaths, with cardiovascular disease and cancer trailing behind at 25 per cent and four per cent respectively.
And while 40 per cent fewer Canadians per capita die as a result of sugary drinks than in the United States, at least twice as many of us die due to the habit than in Great Britain and France, the study found.
Mozaffarian stressed the need to change the culture around soft drinks, “so that it’s not cool to drink a one-litre Big Gulp with your friends.”
He criticized sports and film celebrities for promoting energy drinks and soft drinks.
“Those movie stars would never do commercials and advertise tobacco to kids.”
Sugary drinks are the main source of added sugars in the Canadian diet, said Lesley James, a health policy analyst at the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“Canadians are often unaware of how much sugar they’re consuming in beverage form. And the more you drink, the higher your risk is of these adverse health effects,” she said.
The foundation is pushing for a levy on sugary drink producers to force them to hike the price in hopes of scaring away customers. It says the revenue would go toward healthy lunch programs in schools across the country.
It is also calling for a legislated ban on free refills of fountain pop at chain restaurants.
“It’s liquid candy,” said Corinne Voyer, director of the Quebec Coalition on Weight-Related Problems.
A bottle of pop hits the body a lot harder than, say, a cookie, “because the sugar goes so fast into your body and your liver has to work to metabolize it all,” Voyer said. “It makes the liver very fat.”
Health Canada announced plans earlier this month for redesigned nutrition labels that will highlight added sugars and standardize portion sizes on food packaging.
“Health Canada is in the process of reviewing the evidence base for its current guidance on healthy eating to Canadians, including how the existing guidance is being used by health professionals, educators and consumer,” spokesperson Eric Morrissette wrote in an email.
Earlier this year, Ontario passed a law requiring large food chains to post calories for food and beverage items on menus.
The Tufts University study examined dietary surveys and national data across 187 countries from 1980 to 2010.