In 2010, sugary drink consumption was responsible for an estimated 184,450 deaths worldwide.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend consuming no more than 450 calories from sugar-sweetened beverages each week - the equivalent to less than three 12 oz cans of cola.
However, a 2011 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that males consume an average of 178 calories from sugary drinks daily, while women consume around 103 calories from sugary drinks each day.
For their study, lead author Prof. Gitanjali Singh, research assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy of Tufts University in Boston, MA, and colleagues set out to estimate the annual rates of global deaths and disabilities caused by sugary drink consumption.
Their findings are published in Circulation - a journal of the AHA.
The team analyzed 1980-2010 sugary drink consumption data from 62 surveys involving 611,971 people over 51 countries. Specifically, they focused on how sugary drink consumption affects the number of deaths from diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
In their study, sugary drinks were defined as sugar-sweetened sodas, sports/energy drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened ice teas and homemade sugary drinks. They excluded 100% fruit juice.
The researchers also gathered data on national availability of sugar among 187 countries during the 20-year period. Overall, the data allowed them to assess how consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages varies by age, gender and population and how this impacts death rates.
Prof. Singh and colleagues estimated that in 2010, sugary drink consumption was responsible for around 184,450 deaths worldwide, with 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 45,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,450 deaths from cancer.
The team found younger adults were more likely to experience chronic disease as a result of sugary drink consumption than older adults, which Prof. Singh says is a concern.
"The health impact of sugar-sweetened beverage intake on the young is important because younger adults form a large sector of the workforce in many countries," he explains, "so the economic impact of sugar-sweetened beverage-related deaths and disability in this age group can be significant."
"It also raises concerns about the future," Prof. Singh continues. "If these young people continue to consume high levels as they age, the effects of high consumption will be compounded by the effects of aging, leading to even higher death and disability rates from heart disease and diabetes than we are seeing now."
Reducing sugary drink consumption 'should be a global priority'
The researchers also found low- and middle-income countries had the highest estimated rates of sugary drink-related deaths, with around 76% occurring in these regions.
Among the 20 most populated countries, Mexico had the highest rate of estimated sugary drink-related deaths, with 405 deaths per 1 million adults. The US had the second highest rate, at an estimated 125 deaths per 1 million adults.
"Among the 20 countries with the highest estimated sugar-sweetened beverage-related deaths, at least eight were in Latin America and the Caribbean," notes Prof. Singh, "reflecting the high intakes in that region of the world."
While there were wide variations identified in sugary drink-related deaths between different regions, the researchers note that most countries are affected. Senior author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, also of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy, says:
"Many countries in the world have a significant number of deaths occurring from a single dietary factor, sugar-sweetened beverages. It should be a global priority to substantially reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the diet.
There are no health benefits from sugar-sweetened beverages, and the potential impact of reducing consumption is saving tens of thousands of deaths each year."
In January, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting girls who frequently drink sugar-sweetened beverages are more likely to start menstruation earlier than girls who do not consume sugary drinks.