Drinking sugary beverages weaves a complicated web of diseases and increased risk of death throughout the world. For the first time, researchers from Tufts University’s nutrition school have crunched the numbers and found drinking sugary beverages could lead to thousands of deaths each year on a global scale. Their findings, published in the journal of Circulation, were first presented as an abstract to the American Heart Association Council in 2013.

"Many countries in the world have a significant number of deaths occurring from a single dietary factor, sugar-sweetened beverages," the study’s senior author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, said in a press release. "It should be a global priority to substantially reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the diet."

Researchers analyzed 62 dietary surveys including 611,971 individuals in order to estimate how many deaths sugar-sweetened drinks were responsible for each year. As the first global report on death rates caused by slurping down liquid candy, it provides detailed data accounting for all diseases and disabilities linked back to sodas, fruit drinks, sports and energy drinks, sweetened iced teas, and more. Drinks that contained at least 50 calories per 8-ounce serving, including 100 percent fruit juice, were included in the estimation.

Between 1980 and 2010, 133,000 deaths were caused by type 2 diabetes, 45,000 deaths were caused by cardiovascular disease, and an additional 6,450 were caused by cancer. Throughout the 187 countries represented in the data, a total of 184,000 preventable deaths due to consumption of sugary drinks were tallied. Out of the 20 most populated countries, Mexico had the highest sugary drink-linked death rate in the world, with an estimated 24,000 total deaths each year. The United States was right behind them in second.

"Some population dietary changes, such as increasing fruits and vegetables, can be challenging due to agriculture, costs, storage, and other complexities," Mozaffarian said. "This is not complicated. 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."

The numbers may increase in time, according to the findings. Chronic diseases that were caused by sugar-sweetened beverages were most prevalent in young adults than older adults. Not only that, but approximately 76 percent of the sugary drink deaths occurred most in low-to-middle income countries.

People who drink just one or two sugar-sweetened beverages a day increase their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26 percent and increase the risk of having a heart attack and dying by 20 percent, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute estimates because sugary drink consumption is also strongly linked to obesity, it can increase a person’s risk of cancer as high as 40 percent.

"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, so the economic impact of sugar-sweetened beverage-related deaths and disability in this age group can be significant," the study’s lead author Gitanjali Singh, a research professor at Friedman School, said in a press release. "It also raises concerns about the future. 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."

Source: Gitanjali S, Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Khatibzadeh S, Lim S, and Ezzati M. Circulation. 2015.