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May 21, 2013 > Sugary Drinks Raise Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Sugary Drinks Raise Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Washington Hospital Diabetes Program Recommends Increased Water Intake

Maybe you were concerned about drinking too many cans of soda pop a day so you cut back to just one. The problem is just one can per day significantly increases your chances of getting type 2 diabetes.

New results from a 16-year study show that drinking one 12-ounce can of soda pop per day increases your risk for type 2 diabetes by 22 percent compared with drinking just one can a month or less. The study was conducted by researchers from Imperial College London and the results were recently published in the peer-reviewed Diabetologia, a journal of the European Association of the Study of Diabetes. The results confirm studies conducted in the U.S. that show a link between sugary drinks and type 2 diabetes.

"A lot of people try to limit their consumption of sugary drinks to just one a day, but this study shows even one may be too much," said Vida Reed, a certified diabetes educator at Washington Hospital. "The study is just one more piece of evidence that shows why drinking sweetened beverages is not good for your health."

The study - one of the largest of its kind - looked at data from more than 330,000 people in eight European countries. Researchers selected 12,403 participants who developed type 2 diabetes over the course of the study. They randomly selected 16, 154 individuals from the same study who did not develop type 2 diabetes to serve as a comparison group.

Both groups had completed dietary questionnaires at the start of the study, which included information about their consumption of sweet beverages. The study was designed to evaluate the association between diabetes and the consumption of fruit juices and nectars, sugar-sweetened soft drinks, and artificially sweetened soft drinks. The link between diabetes and fruit juices and nectars and artificially sweetened drinks was less clear, according to the study.

Participants also completed questionnaires on other factors that could influence the results, including smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and educational levels. In addition, body mass index (BMI) was measured and participants were divided into three categories: normal weight, overweight, and obese.

"We have seen an increase in the consumption of sweet beverages in the U.S. at the same time we have seen an increase in type 2 diabetes," Reed said. "There are several reasons for the rise of type 2 diabetes, but this study indicates that sugary drinks may play a role."

Who is at Risk?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body either doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't use it properly. Insulin is a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches, and other food that you eat into energy. When this process doesn't work properly, glucose (sugar) levels in the blood can get too high.

There are a number of factors that can increase your risk for getting type 2 diabetes. Heredity is a key factor; diabetes tends to run in families. In addition, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Pacific Islanders are at increased risk, according to Reed. She said being overweight and physically inactive as well as smoking cigarettes also increases the risk.

"People who sit at a desk all day or have long commutes are at greater risk," she said. "Exercise is important, but you also need to move your body throughout the day. Make sure you get up and walk around during breaks or at lunchtime. If you have a long commute, factor in some time to move around when you get to work. You also need to maintain a healthy weight, and physical activity can help."

Reach for water instead of a sweet drink, she added. Water has zero calories and provides a number of benefits. Your body is composed of about 60 percent water. In addition to simply hydrating the body, water helps to maintain the balance of body fluids. The functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature.

Raising Awareness

Raising awareness about the dangers of excessive soda consumption has been on Washington Hospital's radar for several years. In 2007, Washington Hospital joined the Alameda County Public Health Department's Soda-Free Summer campaign to alert the public and hospital employees about reducing the intake of sugary drinks that are closely linked to health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart attacks.

Today, Washington Hospital's Food and Nutrition Department continues to make changes to the beverage options that are available in the hospital cafe for visitors and employees.

"Washington Hospital has moved away from exclusive agreements or 'pouring rights' contracts with the sweetened beverage industry in an effort to provide options with no high fructose corn syrup and less or no added sugars," said Kimberlee Alvari, RD, CNSC, director of Food and Nutrition/Clinical Services at Washington Hospital. "The American Heart Association recommends that most women should not have more than six teaspoons per day or 100 calories of added sugar, while men should limit consumption to nine teaspoons or 150 calories. One 12-ounce soda can of soft drink contains about eight teaspoons of added sugar or about 130 calories. Washington Hospital continues to work on options to support that recommendation."

Reed added, "There certainly are limitations to this study. For example, dietary assessments were only taken once and didn't account for changes in diet over the years. Also, consumption was self-reported, which can result in errors. But the bottom line is, there are no health benefits associated with drinking sugary drinks, so why take the risk. Just drink water and do your body a favor. There are plenty of good reasons to drink water instead."

Washington Hospital offers a number of resources for people with diabetes, including the free Diabetes Matters support group and lecture series held every month. For more information about diabetes services at Washington Hospital, visit

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