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Harvard researchers say soda and sports drinks increase risk of dying from heart disease and breast and colon cancers

Key Points
  • The more sugary drinks a person drinks, the greater their risk of dying from heart disease, the study finds.
  • Sweet beverages were associated with a moderately higher risk of dying from breast cancer or colon cancer.
  • The study adds to a growing body of research on how sugary drinks may negatively affect one's health.
Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsi Co. soda machines stand in a shopping center parking lot in Jasper, Indiana.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Drinking soda, sports drinks and other sugary beverages increases the risk of dying from heart disease and some types of cancers, according to new research.

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Harvard researchers found that the more sweetened beverages a person drank, the greater their risk of dying from heart disease. In a study published Monday in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, they also found sugary drinks were associated with a moderately higher risk of dying from breast cancer or colon cancer.

Drinking artificially sweetened drinks did not produce the same effects. However, women who drank more than four diet beverages per day died at a higher rate than other groups, particularly from heart disease. Lead author Vasanti Malik warned that this statistic might be inflated because people could have switched from drinking regular soda.

Researchers also found that swapping sugary drinks for diet versions could moderately reduce a person's risk of death, though they still recommend that people drink water. The study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that sugary drinks can cause people to gain weight and possibly lead to a slew of health conditions, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

"The big picture is really starting to emerge," said Malik, a research associate at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "This is not random. There's a whole lot of consistency across these findings."

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Added sugars should make up less than 10 percent of the total calories a person consumes per day, according to federal health guidelines. For a person consuming 2,000 calories per day, that equates to no more than 200 calories. The average can of soda contains 150 calories, or 75 percent of a person's daily allowance.

Researchers found that for every additional sugary drink a person consumed, their risk of dying from heart disease increased by 10 percent. Malik said while the optimal amount of sweet drinks a person should drink is "zero," the risk of drinking one or two per week would probably be small or undetectable.

The observational study tracked data from nearly 120,000 men and women over the course of three decades. Researchers adjusted for anything that could affect the results, such as diet and lifestyle factors. Regardless, they acknowledged residual effects may have altered the findings.

The American Beverage Association, which represents the nation's biggest soda makers, said soft drinks are safe to consume "as part of a balanced diet."

"We don't think anyone should overconsume sugar, that's why we're working to reduce the sugar people consume from beverages across the country," William Dermody said in an email.

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