Drinking a lot of diet soda may boost belly fat and increase risk of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic syndrome, according to the results of a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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The study authors conclude that “increasing diet soda intake was associated with escalating abdominal obesity, which may increase cardiometabolic risk in older adults.”

The findings add to growing concerns over the safety of chronic soda consumption. Recent studies on the adverse effects of drinking soda reported by Medical News Today have linked drinking soda with cell aging, increasing aggression and distraction among children, earlier onset of menstruation and endometrial cancer.

However, the new study looks specifically at diet soda, which many people turn to in an attempt to reduce their sugar intake. Research shows that over the past 3 decades, intake of both artificial sweeteners and diet soda have risen, in tandem with a “dramatic increase” in obesity over the same period.

While most of the existing research exploring the link between diet soda consumption and cardiometabolic diseases has concentrated on middle-aged and younger adults, the new study looks at adverse health effects among seniors.

“Our study seeks to fill the age gap by exploring the adverse health effects of diet soda intake in individuals 65 years of age and older,” explains lead author Sharon Fowler, from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“The burden of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, along with health care costs, is great in the ever-increasing senior population,” Fowler adds.

As part of the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging (SALSA), 749 Mexican- and European-Americans aged 65 and older were recruited between 1992 and 1996. Their diet soda intake, waist circumference, height and weight were all measured at the start of the study and at follow-ups during 2001-01, 2001-03 and 2003-04.

Analyzing the SALSA data, Fowler and colleagues found that – per follow-up interval – the average waist circumference of diet soda drinkers was almost triple that of their peers who did not drink diet soda.

Adjusting for confounding factors, the team found that – over the total 9.4-year follow-up period – interval waist circumference increases were 0.77 cm among those who never drank diet soda, 1.76 cm for people who occasionally drank diet soda and 3.04 cm for people who drank diet soda every day.

Overall, this adds up to waist circumference increases of:

  • 0.80 inches for non-users
  • 1.83 inches for occasional users
  • 3.16 inches for daily users.

Fowler concludes that “increasing diet soda intake was associated with escalating abdominal obesity, which may increase cardiometabolic risk in older adults,” and recommends that seniors who often drink diet soda should curb their consumption, particularly if they are at high cardiometabolic risk.

Last year, MNT looked at a controversial study published in the journal Obesity that implied diet soda is a more effective tool for weight loss than water.

That study was criticized heavily as it was sponsored by the American Beverage Association and led by a scientist who has worked as a consultant to The Coca-Cola Company.