Each year, soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks are associated with about 180,000 "preventable" deaths worldwide, according to a new study by Harvard University scientists.
Of those deaths, most can be attributed to diabetes, with other deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to Gitanjali Singh, a researcher with Harvard's School of Public Health. Singh presented his findings, which were based on the World Health Organization's 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, Tuesday at a meeting sponsored by the American Heart Association. The study is the first to estimate the number of deaths caused by sugary drinks worldwide.
According to Singh, roughly 75 percent of worldwide deaths associated with soda consumption happen in low- and middle- income countries, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. About 25,000 deaths in the United States in 2010 were linked to sugary drink consumption.
"The higher death rate in low and middle income countries in comparison to wealthy countries is due both to high consumption combined with a high death rate from diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in these countries," he wrote in an email to U.S. News.
In Cuba, for instance, the average male younger than 45 drinks more than five servings of soda each day.
Singh's report comes just a week after New York City's proposed ban on large sodas was struck down by a judge. Singh says his study suggests that more legislation is needed to control soda consumption.
"Our finding that tens of thousands of deaths are due to this dietary risk factor is remarkable and I think it warrants the attention and action of policy makers," he writes. "It should push policy makers worldwide to make effective policies to reduce consumption of sugary beverages, such as taxation, mass-media campaigns, and reducing availability of these drinks."
In a statement, the American Beverage Association, which represents many soda manufacturers, said the report is "more about sensationalism than science."
"It does not show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer—the real causes of death among the studied subjects," the organization said. "The researchers make a huge leap when they take beverage intake calculations from around the globe and allege that those beverages are the cause of deaths."
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Updated 03/19/13: This story has been updated to include comment from the American Beverage Association.