Whether it’s a tall vanilla latte at Starbucks, a soda at dinner or a sports drink after a workout, sugary beverages have been linked to more than 180,000 deaths annually world wide, according to the American Heart Association.
Mexico had the highest death rate, while Japan had the lowest, according to research on the 15 most populated countries from the associations’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions, which took place March 19-22. According to other news sources, the United States ranked third.
A team of Harvard researchers conducted the study and wanted to find out how the world’s population consumes sugary beverages and how it consequently affects death rates.
The researchers looked at surveys that covered more than 60 percent of the world’s population and referenced studies from other medical journals.
Jay Matz, the communications director with the American Heart Association’s midwest affiliate, said the association recommends the average person on a 2,000 calorie diet to consume less than 450 calories per week from sugar-sweetened beverages.
“A good rule of thumb is less than 36 ounces per week, or three cans of soda,” Matz said. “Soda isn’t the only culprit, though; energy drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices, even coffees can all be loaded with sugar.”
Matz said the best way to hydrate yourself is to stick to water.
“If you’re buying fruit juices, look for those with no added sugars,” Matz said. “The fewer ingredients, the better. If you have to have a coffee loaded with sugary syrups, sugar or creams, make it a treat, not an everyday option.”
Matz said the number of deaths attributed to sugary deaths was surprising to him, but the dangers of the beverages themselves did not come as a surprise.
Matz said the AHA identified seven controllable risk factors for heart disease and stroke, titled ”Life’s Simple 7.” He said excess sugar directly impacts two of these areas because of its high caloric content and lack of nutritional value.
“Maintaining a healthy BMI is one controllable risk factor for heart disease and stroke,” Matz said. “Obviously, obesity is a risk factor, but just being overweight also increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.”
Matz said another one of the controllable factors directly relates to one’s blood sugar.
“If your blood sugar gets too high, you end up with diabetes or pre-diabetes,” Matz said. “Each of these conditions puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke.”
Matz said the AHA recommendations focus on all added sugars without singling out any particular types of high-fructose corn syrups.
“The sugar line on the nutrition label indicates the grams of naturally occurring and added sugar in a product,” Matz said. “Each gram of sugar contains four calories; do a little math and you can figure how many calories in everything you eat are coming just from sugar.”
Joseph Valenti, a junior in the College of Business Administration, said on average he drinks one sugary beverage every other day.
“I think (drinks) should definitely be made with less sugar, and healthier options should be offered,” Valenti said. “However, I won’t change my habits quite yet.”
Alberto Uscanga, a community organizer who is passionate about community health, said he consumes two to three sugary beverages a week.
“If you go to a corner store, which are overabundant in some urban communities, even the juice that they have is loaded with sugar,” Uscanga said. “The thing that breaks my heart more than anything is when my mom, my nephew’s grandma, says things like ‘at least he isn’t drinking soda,’ because those juices often have as much if not more sugar than the soda.”
Uscanga said sugary beverages are frequently consumed because of an unavailability of healthier drink options.
“It does make me think – I don’t know how much more I could cut back,” Uscanga said. “As I get more involved in my community, it’s something that will be more of an issue for me. If cigarettes are bad, I think these sugary beverages are even worse.”
The plight of the big gulp
Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, recently attempted to pass legislation that would ban the sale of large sugary beverages in the state of New York.
The legislation was quickly put to rest by the New York state Supreme Court, which said Bloomberg was abusing his power by foregoing the City Council and taking the issue straight to the New York Board of Health, a board which he appointed.
Bloomberg has no plans to take the measure to the City Council.