Sugary drinks linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide


In early 2013, just a week after the New York Supreme Court struck down Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed large sugary drink ban, which would have prohibited the sale of beverages larger than 16 ounces in many food outlets, research was presented at an American Heart Association meeting that linked consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide – 180,000 deaths per year.

Soda bottles. Flickr: dcJohn

Fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, soda, sweetened iced teas, etc. are consumed in huge quantities in the modern world. The average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar daily, equating to 355 calories. Teens consume even more – 34.3 teaspoons or 549 calories a day, and half of the added sugars in the typical American diet come from sweetened drinks, mostly soda.1, 2

It is no secret that these sugary beverages are a threat to human health. Sugary drinks have very low satiety value, and extremely low to zero micronutrient content; the link between these beverages and weight gain is well-documented.3 However, these liquid calories carry more danger than excess calories alone – sugary drinks are powerfully disease-promoting.

Sugary drinks provide their huge calorie load with no fiber, and no chewing required; the sugar is consumed and then hits the bloodstream almost instantly. The surge of glucose in the blood (and fructose in the liver) sets off complex pathways in the body that, over time, contribute to insulin resistance, increased visceral fat mass, elevated cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, and cancer cell survival and proliferation.4-8 Consumption of added sugars or sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.2, 9-15 There are also strong links between hyperinsulinemia (excess insulin in the blood, a consequence of excess blood glucose) and certain cancers.7, 16-19  

Researchers gathered data from the World Health Organization on sugary drink consumption, obesity and chronic disease in 114 countries. Knowing that sugary drinks promote obesity, and obesity is a risk factor for chronic diseases, they investigated the association between sweetened beverage consumption and obesity in the different countries, and then analyzed deaths from obesity-related chronic disease.  

These are their conclusions – estimates of the number of deaths per year that may be attributed to sugar sweetened beverages:20

  • Total deaths worldwide: 180,000

  • Total deaths in the U.S.: 25,000

  • Deaths from diabetes worldwide: 133,000

  • Deaths from cardiovascular disease worldwide: 44,000

One-hundred and eighty thousand deaths each year could possibly be prevented by simply drinking water instead of soda?

These estimates don’t even take into account the added sugars in breakfast cereals, baked goods, candy and ice cream that are so prevalent in the American diet – not to mention the oils, fried foods, white flour, white rice and animal products. Imagine the number of deaths that could be prevented, the health care costs that could be saved, and the excellent health our nation could enjoy by not just cutting out sugary drinks, but following a health-promoting Nutritarian lifestyle. Preventable diseases are our major killers, and we have the power to protect ourselves with superior nutrition.

It is clear that sugary drinks are disease-causing and each of us can make the simple choice to avoid disease-causing substances. The addictive properties of excessively sweet foods may make this choice difficult for many people, but hopefully research like this will reach many who are sick and overweight on the American diet, and help them to build the motivation they need to abstain from disease-causing sugary drinks. 


1. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Sugar: Too Much of a Sweet Thing []
2. Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al: Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2009, 120:1011-1020.
3. Malik VS, Schulze MB, Hu FB: Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr 2006, 84:274-288.
4. Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Keim NL, et al: Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. J Clin Invest 2009, 119:1322-1334.
5. Cohen L, Curhan G, Forman J: Association of Sweetened Beverage Intake with Incident Hypertension. J Gen Intern Med 2012.
6. Maersk M, Belza A, Stodkilde-Jorgensen H, et al: Sucrose-sweetened beverages increase fat storage in the liver, muscle, and visceral fat depot: a 6-mo randomized intervention study. Am J Clin Nutr 2012, 95:283-289.
7. Arcidiacono B, Iiritano S, Nocera A, et al: Insulin resistance and cancer risk: an overview of the pathogenetic mechanisms. Exp Diabetes Res 2012, 2012:789174.
8. Port AM, Ruth MR, Istfan NW: Fructose consumption and cancer: is there a connection? Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes 2012, 19:367-374.
9. Fagherazzi G, Vilier A, Saes Sartorelli D, et al: Consumption of artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages and incident type 2 diabetes in the Etude Epidemiologique aupres des femmes de la Mutuelle Generale de l'Education Nationale-European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort. Am J Clin Nutr 2013.
10. Malik VS, Hu FB: Sweeteners and Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: The Role of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. Curr Diab Rep 2012.
11. Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, et al: Sugar Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-analysis. Diabetes Care 2010.
12. Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, et al: The relationship of sugar to population-level diabetes prevalence: an econometric analysis of repeated cross-sectional data. PLoS One 2013, 8:e57873.
13. Bernstein AM, de Koning L, Flint AJ, et al: Soda consumption and the risk of stroke in men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2012.
14. Friberg E, Wallin A, Wolk A: Sucrose, high-sugar foods, and risk of endometrial cancer--a population-based cohort study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2011, 20:1831-1837.
15. De Stefani E, Deneo-Pellegrini H, Mendilaharsu M, et al: Dietary sugar and lung cancer: a case-control study in Uruguay. Nutr Cancer 1998, 31:132-137.
16. Bowker SL, Majumdar SR, Veugelers P, et al: Increased cancer-related mortality for patients with type 2 diabetes who use sulfonylureas or insulin: Response to Farooki and Schneider. Diabetes Care 2006, 29:1990-1991.
17. Gunter MJ, Hoover DR, Yu H, et al: Insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I, endogenous estradiol, and risk of colorectal cancer in postmenopausal women. Cancer Res 2008, 68:329-337.
18. Gunter MJ, Hoover DR, Yu H, et al: Insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I, and risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. J Natl Cancer Inst 2009, 101:48-60.
19. Pisani P: Hyper-insulinaemia and cancer, meta-analyses of epidemiological studies. Arch Physiol Biochem 2008, 114:63-70.
20. 180,000 deaths worldwide may be associated with sugary soft drinks. American Heart Association Meeting Report.

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Comments (7) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Wayne Smith - March 23, 2013 6:32 PM

It's ironic that the AHA endorses "heart healthy" sugary cereals, like Honey Nut Cheerios, that list sugar as the second ingredient.

mike crosby - March 24, 2013 1:48 AM

I'm sorry, but when I read studies like this, my reaction is this is BS.

I have great respect for Dr Fuhrman, but please.

Travis Anderson - April 2, 2013 1:20 PM

Dr Fuhrman - I love smoothies, including your chocolate smoothie recipe, I also have done a 26 day juice fast previously, largely fruit and carrot juices. I lost over a pound per day - it was an amazing experience.

Anyways, that was a few years ago, and I'm starting to make smoothies more, but the problem now is I'm reading quotes from other authors that we should now avoid smoothies because the fiber is lost/destroyed/lost it's benefits in the process of blending?

Should I be concerned in blood sugar spikes from smoothies and/or juicing, even though they are a huge source of micronutrients or NOT?

Does adding flax or chia to a smoothie blunt the effect at all?

If I had a huge fruit smoothie every morning for the next 20 years, would I develop diabetes or insulin resistance?

Thanks for any response you can give, even if short.

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - April 3, 2013 1:48 PM

Travis, there is no evidence to suggest that green smoothies would contribute to insulin resistance. Dr. Fuhrman does recommend using plenty of greens and a small amount of fruit, and including nuts and seeds, to minimize glycemic effects and so that you do not consume excessive fruit in a single meal.

Travis Anderson - April 18, 2013 9:52 AM

Can anyone else on this blog comment? Do the micronutrient benefits outweigh the sugar spike?

Travis Anderson - April 18, 2013 5:00 PM

Deana, I really appreciate the response. What about in the case of juicing?

Neil Butterfield - May 7, 2013 7:42 AM

That's a ton of sugar! I am so glad that I have cut back one teaspoon per cup of coffee, tea and porridge.

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