It's Not Just Sugary Drinks That Are Bad for You—Artificially Sweetened Ones Also Appear to Increase the Risk of Death

Both sugary and diet soft drinks have been linked to an increased risk of death in a huge study.

The research, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, involved 451,743 people from 10 European countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. The participants were enrolled in the ongoing European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition research project between 1992 and 2000. Researchers asked them about their diet—including how many soft drinks they consumed—as well as lifestyle choices and demographics. The team also collected samples of their blood. The team followed up with the participants after an average of 16.4 years, and noted how many fell sick and died.

Participants who drank a lot of soft drinks were at a greater risk of death by any cause compared with those who drank the lowest amounts, the team found.

"Low consumers" were defined as those who had one glass per month or less, while high consumption was considered at least two glasses per day.

Study co-author Neil Murphy of the International Agency for Research on Cancer told Newsweek: "Our results for sugar-sweetened soft drinks provide further support to limit consumption and to replace them with other healthier beverages, preferably water.

"For artificially-sweetened soft drinks, we now need a better understanding of the mechanisms that may underlie this association. Research such as ours will hopefully stimulate these efforts."

Their study is the third this year to find a link between artificially sweetened soft drink and all-cause death, but more research is needed to uncover the underlying mechanisms, said Murphy. One study published in the journal Circulation involved over 100,000 men and women; while the second involved 81,714 post-menopausal women and was published in Stroke.

However, Murphy stressed that his team's findings don't mean soft drinks cause an early death, because the research was observational.

"There are other factors which may be behind the association we observed," Murphy explained. "For instance, high soft drink consumption may be a marker of overall unhealthy diet. Also, in our study, high soft drinks consumers had higher BMI and were also more likely to be current tobacco smokers."

The study is the largest ever to focus on Europe, following the two published in Circulation and Stroke that looked at the U.S. population.

Mathilde Touvier, head of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team at INSERM who was not involved in the study, told Newsweek the effects of sugary drinks on cardiometabolic health are well-known, but there are few which look at sugary drinks and mortality. She described the work as "well-conducted and strong."

Touvier, who was the senior author of a study published in July in The BMJ linking sugary drinks and cancer risk, said her work meant she was not surprised by the new findings—but members of the public might be.

"Artificially sweetened beverages are often considered by the consumers as safe alternatives to sugary drinks since they provide very few calories but their effects on long term health remain very uncertain," she said.

"The results observed here definitely strengthen the recommendations of public health authorities to limit also artificially sweetened beverages and not only sugary drinks," said Touvier, adding: "This study is another brick in the wall: strong evidence already existed regarding increased cardiometabolic health such as risk of type 2 diabetes."

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Drinking regular or diet soft drinks has been linked to an increased risk of death in a study. This stock image shows two people holding glasses of cola. Getty