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Health in the Media: Fizzy Drinks

Posted on October 13, 2015

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This week the media picked up on health risks associated with consumption of fizzy drinks – the Scots among us may use the term ‘fizzy juice’; I call it ‘pop’. Perhaps an example of my own personal bias, I thoroughly expected these articles to be riddled with inaccuracies; maybe they would even go so far as to claim a causal link with cancer. Though by no means perfect, I was pleasantly surprised with the content of these pieces, ran by the Daily Mail (1), Daily Mirror (2), The Sun (3), and even publications further afield, for example The Zimbabwe Mail (4).

A consistent inaccuracy came in the overuse of the word ‘new’; this information isn’t particularly new at all. The articles focus on the work of Frank Hu, a Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. His major research interests include diet and lifestyle links to epidemiology in terms of prevention of type II diabetes, metabolic diseases, cardiovascular complications and obesity (5). Professor Hu’s work is ongoing, as most research is, but the facts quoted in the media focus largely earlier work including a meta-analysis published in a meta-analysis published in 2010 (6).

Here’s a rundown on the facts reported throughout the media on this story, complete with commentary on accuracy and references where possible:

fizzy drinksClaim: People who consume sugary drinks regularly – 1 to 2 cans a day or more – have a 26% greater risk of developing type II diabetes than people who rarely have such drinks.
Accurate? This is confirmed by a meta-analysis (6)

Claim: People who consume sugary drinks regularly – 1 to 2 cans a day or more – have a 35% or greater risk of heart attack or heart disease than people who rarely have such drinks
Accurate? Risk of heart attack or heart disease is true, but the extent of which has been over-egged by the media. A study that followed 40,000 for two decades found that those who average 1 can per day had a 20% higher risk of having a heart attack, or dying from a heart attack, than men who rarely consumed sugary drinks. (7) A related study in women also found a similar link (8).

Claim: People who consume sugary drinks regularly – 1 to 2 cans a day or more – have a 16% increased risk of stroke than people who rarely have such drinks.
Accurate? I’ve searched the publications for this illusive 16% value, and I’ve been unable to find anything. The closest I’ve come is a publication referenced in one of Hu et al.’s papers (7), which suggests a positive association between the consumption of sweetened drinks and risk of stroke (9).

It’s also worth noting that the media tend to focus on sugar-sweetened drinks like Coca-Cola, Fanta and the like, but these publications include the full spectrum of sugar-sweetened drinks; sweetened fruit juices, vitamin water drinks and sweetened energy drinks are also implicated along with the usual culprits.

References

1. Daily Mail (2015) Just TWO cans of sugary fizzy drinks a day ‘significantly increases the risk of heart attack, diabetes and strokes’ From: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3252690/Just-TWO-cans-soda-day-significantly-increases-risk-heart-attack-diabetes-stroke.html2. Mirror (2015) Two cans of fizzy pop a day ‘increases risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke’. From: http://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/health/two-cans-fizzy-pop-day-6533217
3. The Sun (2015) Can of Stroke, 2 drinks a day danger. From: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/6665256/Two-cans-of-fizzy-pop-a-day-raises-heart-attack-risk.html
4. The Zimbabwe Mail (2015) Two cans of fizzy pop a day ‘increases risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke’. From: http://thezimbabwemail.com/two-cans-of-fizzy-pop-a-day-increases-risk-of-heart-disease-diabetes-and-stroke/5. Harvard University (2015) Frank Hu. From: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/frank-hu/6. Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Despres JP, Willett WC, Hu FB (2010) Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: ameta-anaylsis. Diabetes Care, 33(11):2477-83.
7. de Koning L, Malik VS, Kellogg MD, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB (2012) Sweetened beverage consumption, incident coronary heart disease, and biomarkers of risk in men. Circulation, 125(14):1735-41.
8. Fung TT, Malik V, Rexrode KM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB (2009) Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(4):1037-42.
9. Larsson SC, Akesson, A, Wolk, A (2014) Sweetened beverage consumption is associated with increased risk of stroke in women and men. Journal of Nutrition, 144(6):856-860.

Heidi Gardner

Hi, I'm Heidi. I graduated from the University of Aberdeen with a 1st class degree in Pharmacology earlier this year, and have now began a PhD in Applied Health Sciences as part of Trial Forge. Primarily I'll be working on patient recruitment into clinical trials, hoping to understand existing methods and find better ways to improve trial recruitment and retention of participants.

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Health in the Media: Fizzy Drinks by Heidi Gardner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Unless otherwise stated, all images used within the blog are not available for reuse or republication as they are purchased for Students 4 Best Evidence from shutterstock.com.

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