🔑 Key Findings:
- Sugar-sweetened drinks like juice and soda linked to heart disease risk
- Researchers found regular exercise didn’t reverse this risk
- The study finds that the best option is still water
QUEBEC CITY, Quebec — Sodas, juices, and energy drinks may taste great going down, but once those beverages hit our stomachs, all of the sugar they contain can wreak havoc on our health. While it shouldn’t be breaking news to anyone that sugar isn’t a healthy dietary choice, a new study warns that exercise alone isn’t enough to undo the risks of cardiovascular disease associated with drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.
Sugary drinks are the single largest source of added sugars in the North American diet, and their consumption is highly associated with a larger risk of developing cardiovascular disease, the world’s leading cause of death. Researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health led this project, and Jean-Philippe Drouin-Chartier, professor at Universit Laval’s Faculty of Pharmacy, served as study co-author.
“The marketing strategies for these drinks often show active people drinking these beverages. It suggests that sugary drink consumption has no negative effects on health if you’re physically active. Our research aimed to assess this hypothesis,” says Prof. Drouin-Chartier in a media release.
To conduct this study, the research team examined two groups totaling roughly 100,000 adults, following them for about three decades. The analyzed data revealed that people who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages more than twice weekly had a clearly higher risk of cardiovascular disease — regardless of personal physical activity levels.
Researchers note that even if the widely-recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity may protect against cardiovascular disease, that much weekly exercise still isn’t enough to counter the negative health effects of sugar-sweetened beverages.
“Physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with sugar-sweetened beverages by half, but it does not fully eliminate it,” Prof. Drouin-Chartier explains.
The frequency of consumption considered by researchers (twice weekly) was relatively low all things considered, yet still significantly associated with cardiovascular disease risk. This suggests individuals consuming sugary drinks on a daily basis face even larger cardiovascular risk profiles.
With this in mind, study authors stress the importance of targeting the widespread presence of sugar-sweetened beverages in society. Examples include soft and carbonated drinks (with or without caffeine), lemonade, and fruit cocktails. This project did not account for energy drinks specifically, but they also tend to contain sugar as well.
Artificially sweetened drinks are usually presented as an alternative solution to sugary beverages. The consumption of such beverages showed no association with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.
“Replacing sugar-sweetened beverages by diet drinks is good, because it reduces the amount of sugar. But the best drink option remains water,” Prof. Drouin-Chartier comments.
“Our findings provide further support for public health recommendations and policies to limit people’s intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as to encourage people to meet and maintain adequate physical activity levels,” concludes lead study author Lorena Pacheco, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School.
The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.