In Mexico, where more than 10 percent of the population has diabetes, approximately 30 percent of the deaths among people under age 45 are due to sugary drinks, the researchers concluded. Mexico had the highest death rate attributable to sugar-sweetened beverages, the researchers said.
Conversely, in Japan, where unsweetened teas are among the most popular beverages, deaths from sugary drinks are negligible.
Americans consume 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar (equal to 355 calories) per day, on average, and sugar-sweetened beverages are the primary source of this sugar, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The sugars are added to foods and drinks to improve their taste but provide no nutritional benefit, only calories, thus contributing to weight gain and heart disease, the AHA said.
A 12-ounce (355 milliliters) serving of regular soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar, according to the American Diabetes Association, which recommends that people avoid drinking sugar-sweetened beverages to help prevent diabetes.
The researchers could not prove a direct cause and effect - for example, they cannot say that sugary beverages are the actual, primary cause of these 184,000 deaths on an individual level. Rather, they based their conclusions on national beverage consumption trends, death rates and sugar availability.
The beverage industry remains skeptical of the findings.
"This study does not show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases and the authors themselves acknowledge that they are at best estimating effects of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption," the American Beverage Association, a trade association that represents the U.S. non-alcoholic beverage industry, said in a statement.
Mozaffarian said the connection between sugary drinks and obesity is well established. "They [the industry] have their heads in the sand," Mozaffarian told Live Science.
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