Study linking sugary drinks to high death tolls ‘cannot show cause and effect,’ say industry bodies

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Study linking sugary drinks to high death tolls ‘cannot show cause and effect,’ say industry bodies

Related tags: Hypertension, Soft drink

Industry bodies around the globe have slammed a US study which attributes 184,000 deaths a year to sugary drinks, saying its authors fail to show cause and effect or prove a direct link with beverages.  

In the study published last week,​authors said 133,000 deaths from diabetes worldwide in 2010 could be attributed to sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs), and called for strong global prevention programmes.

But industry representatives – including the International Beverage Association, American Beverage Association, British Soft Drinks Association, and Canadian Beverage Association - have criticised the study, and defended efforts from the industry to promote public health.

Study estimates the global impact of SSBs

The study, entitled ‘Estimated Global, Regional and National Disease Burdens related to Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption in 2010,’ was published in the journal Circulation last week. Authors estimate that SSBs may have been responsible for around 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 6,450 deaths from cancer, and 45,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease that year.

The study took data from national dietary surveys on SSB consumption. This covered 51 countries and 611,971 individuals. In doing so, it aimed to account for geographical, gender and age variation in SSB consumption.

It then used meta-analyses on health harms of SSBs to calculate the impact on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Data varied greatly between countries: researchers say the percentage of deaths was less than 1% in Japanese people aged over 65, but 30% in Mexican adults aged under 45.

They added that around 76% of the estimated SSB-related deaths came from low or middle income countries.

‘Failure to establish direct link with beverages,’ says Canadian Beverage Association

But industry bodies say the study fails to demonstrate cause and effect.

The International Beverage Association and Canadian Beverage Association both say the study is merely a statistical model and does not investigate real-life health outcomes from people’s diets.

The Canadian Beverage Association, a national trade association which represents companies in the non-alcoholic beverage sector, said: “The authors' estimates and projections cannot show cause and effect.

“The report examines mortality rates from chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer – but fails to establish any unique or direct link with beverages.

“The authors themselves acknowledge they are - at best - estimating a presumed effect of SSB consumption. This is very different from demonstrating causation.”

It references a Canadian government report, which says that it is the total number of calories consumed (rather than where the calories come from) that contribute significantly to obesity.

The International Beverage Association adds that its members are offering consumers information about beverage calories and providing choice in the form of reduced, low and no calorie variants and portion-controlled sizes. “Consumers need to make the right choices for themselves and their families,” ​it said.   

‘Illogical and wrong’ use of beverage intake calculations in study, says BSDA

The American Beverage Association also responded to the study, saying companies in the sector are dedicated to being part of ‘real solutions’ to public health challenges.

It reiterates the position of the IBA and CBA, saying the study does not show SSBs cause chronic diseases.

It adds that heart diseases involve a complex set of problems with no single cause or simple solution. High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and being physically inactive are all major risk factors, it says, referencing the National Institutes of Health.  

The British Soft Drink Association points to 2014 government data, which says that soft drinks account for only 3% of calories in the UK diet. It also references efforts from the industry, which have cut calories in soft drinks by 7.3% and sugar by 8.3% since April 2012.

In no way does this study show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer​,” said the UK representative of soft drinks companies. “In fact, the researchers provide no evidence when they illogically and wrongly take beverage intake calculations from around the globe and allege that those beverages are the cause of deaths which the authors themselves acknowledge are due to chronic disease."

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