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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Study links soft drinks to high rate of diabetes

By Julie Sevrens Lyons

Mercury News


Drinking just one soda a day nearly doubles a woman's risk of developing diabetes, a new study has found, providing the strongest evidence to date that a penchant for sugary Big Gulps may spell big trouble for a person's health.

In a landmark study of more than 50,000 women, researchers determined soft drinks not only set the women up for weight gain, but also dramatically increased the likelihood of women developing type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes. Fruit punch was also linked to higher rates of diabetes among the women, while fruit juice and diet soda were largely vindicated in the study, which appears in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

``Once in a while, it might be OK to drink soda, but I don't think it has a place in a daily healthy diet,'' said Dr. Caroline M. Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center, who wrote an editorial accompanying the new study.

The scientists found that women who drank one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day had an 83 percent increased risk for type 2 diabetes, compared with women who consumed less than one soda per month.

The researchers believe the culprit is not just the calories in the containers, but the excessive amount of high-fructose corn syrup, which can lead not only to weight gain but adult-onset diabetes.

Adverse effects

Diabetes, which can cause blindness, limb amputations and even death, has long been linked to obesity, physical inactivity and advanced age. But today's research makes the strongest point yet that Coke, Pepsi and other sugary sodas may also play a role.

``We were surprised that the association with type 2 diabetes was this strong,'' said Dr. JoAnn Manson, one of the researchers. ``We expected there might be a slight increase in risk, but there was nearly a doubling.''

Diet soda did not significantly increase the women's risk for diabetes.

The soda industry disagreed with the findings, calling into question the study's methodology and arguing that one type of beverage can't be singled out when so many factors are known to trigger type 2 diabetes.

``Their conclusions are scientifically unsound,'' said Richard Adamson, vice president of scientific and technical affairs for the American Beverage Association.

``These women also smoked more, they consumed less protein . . . and they exercised less,'' Adamson said. ``They were at high risk because they had an unhealthy lifestyle.''

The researchers behind the new study agreed that the women who drank more soda also tended to consume more calories overall, exercise less and consume more carbohydrates, sucrose and fructose, which do put them at a greater risk for type 2 diabetes.

But these factors were all taken into consideration, Manson said. And even then, there was no denying that sugar-sweetened beverages also have an important role in the onset of obesity and diabetes, Manson said.

The study looked at health data taken from 51,603 women over nearly a decade. The women are all nurses, and were in their 20s, 30s and 40s when information was first collected from them in 1989.

The scientists are calling for the government to do everything it can to discourage Americans from drinking so many sodas, but they concede it certainly won't be easy.

Americans now get 7 percent of their total daily calories from soft drinks, a University of California-Berkeley scientist reported in June. The drinks represent one of the biggest sources of added sugars in the U.S. diet.

`Addicted to soda'

But all the research in the world surely won't be enough to prompt some soft drink lovers to give up their daily doses of caffeine and sugar.

``I'm addicted to soda,'' said 17-year-old Nikita Brand, as she put a lid atop her 22-ounce Coca-Cola Slurpee on Tuesday at a San Jose 7-Eleven store.

Nikita averages three sodas a day, she said, usually opting for Coke. When told that the new study suggests it may pose health risks for women, she quickly brushed the news off. ``I don't really pay attention when I hear stuff like that,'' she said.

Public health officials say more Americans should.

Regular carbonated beverages contain roughly 150 calories per 12-ounce serving, and soda drinkers can quickly develop problems with their weight if they don't get enough exercise.

The scientists behind the new study found that if women increased their soda consumption, their weight went up. If they cut back on the sugary drinks, their weight steadily went down.

``Drink one bottle of soda a day for a week and you have to bicycle for 4 hours and 20 minutes just to burn off the calories,'' said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy in Davis. The organization was a leading advocate of a law that took effect this summer barring sodas from being sold on elementary and middle school campuses.

Correlation observed

Goldstein said he is worried the message hasn't been getting out that soda may, in the long run, have deleterious health effects. Obesity and diabetes rates have been rising just as sharply as soft drink consumption rates, he said. And yet many Americans don't recognize this.

``People drink soda like it's water,'' he said, ``but it's not.''

Mercury News Staff Writer Esther Landhuis contributed to this report. Contact Julie Sevrens Lyons at jlyons@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5989.

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