Sugary drinks could increase cancer risk regardless of your weight

The more sugary soft drinks you consume, the greater your chances of developing a number of cancers, regardless of your body size.

That’s the stark finding from a new research study undertaken by Cancer Council Victoria and University of Melbourne. It found that people who regularly consume sugary soft drinks are more at-risk of several types of cancer than those who don’t.

The study, published in the Public Health Nutrition journal, included more than 35,000 Australian adults who developed more than 3,000 cases of ‘obesity-related’ cancers. It identified an association between people who regularly drank sugary soft drinks and an increased risk of cancers, regardless of waist size.

“These particular cancers are commonly associated with obesity, however our research found this risk existed for all participants, no matter their size,” said Associate Professor Allison Hodge of Cancer Council Victoria’s Cancer Epidemiology and Intelligence Division. “We were surprised to find this increased cancer risk was not driven completely by obesity.

“Our study found that the more sugary soft drinks participants drank, the higher their risk of cancer. This was not the case with those who drank diet soft drinks, suggesting sugar is a key contributor. Even people who were not overweight had an increased cancer risk if they regularly drank sugary soft drinks.”

The caramel colouring (4-methylimidazole) used in cola drinks, and artificial sweeteners, did not seem to affect cancer risk, she said.

“Interestingly, though, we found those who regularly drank diet soft drinks were just as likely to be obese as those who regularly drank sugary soft drinks, which still carries health risks.”

Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Todd Harper, said the findings provide “yet another” reason for people to cut back their consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.

“Sugary drinks, including soft drinks, are already known to be a cause of obesity, which greatly increases the risk of 13 types of cancer,” he said. “And cancer is just one of many chronic health conditions associated with sugary drink consumption, including increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay.

“We need more people to understand the connection and make the switch to water.”

Do we need a sugar tax on soft drinks?

The study looked at adult soft drink consumers, but according to Obesity Policy Coalition Executive Manager Jane Martin, the problem is likely to be even more substantial in younger Australians with brands constantly bombarding kids with targeted advertising.

“Younger Australians are consuming significantly more sugary drinks than older people, they are widely available and often discounted,” she said. “A 20% health levy on sugary drinks can help deter people from these cheap and very unhealthy drinks, and help recover some of the significant costs associated with obesity and the increasing burden this puts on our public health care system.”

Ms Martin also said that people should be cautious even with artificially-sweetened drinks, as these have also been associated with obesity, which in turn is linked to cancer.

In the UK, a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks is set to take effect from April. There will be two bands – one for soft drinks with more than 5g of sugar per 100ml, and a higher one for drinks with more than 8g per 100ml. Pure fruit juices, sugary milkshakes and yogurt drinks will be excluded from the levy.

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