There are many products that we know are terrible for our health, yet allow ourselves to consume regardless. Obviously, a two of the most prominent are tobacco and alcohol — which, though coming under more and more scrutiny with every passing year, are still accepted as being a part of the lifestyle of millions of people. But those products kill people. A lot of people. And we still have a hard time criticizing people for indulging themselves.
Well, move over cigarettes and beer, because there’s a new killer in town. And it’s much more widely available, and is likely within arms-reach of you at this very moment.
According to a new study from Tufts University, sugary drinks — including our beloved soda pops and fruit juices — kill an astounding number of people around the world every year. Up to 184,000, in fact.
The study looked at more than 600,000 individuals between the years of 1980 and 2010, from 51 different countries, and came to an obvious conclusion: Sugar kills — mostly by causing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
“Many countries in the world have a significant number of deaths occurring from a single dietary factor, sugar-sweetened beverages. It should be a global priority to substantially reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the diet,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, author of the study and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Boston’s Tufts University.
To expand on that, Mozaffarian said that these beverages provide no real advantage in terms of nutrition, and that there’s no reason people should be consuming these drinks in the first place.
“This is not complicated. There are no health benefits from sugar-sweetened beverages, and the potential impact of reducing consumption is saving tens of thousands of deaths each year,” he added.
The question is, what can you do? From a regulatory standpoint, putting in bans on these kinds of drinks has shown to backfire completely, as unsurprisingly, people don’t like to be told what they can and cannot drink by the government. Michael Bloomberg’s failed ban on large sodas in New York City is a prime example.
But, on the other hand, market forces don’t seem to be dissuading people from guzzling down Coke and Pepsi either — even as it becomes more and more obvious that these beverages are not only incredibly unhealthy, but that there are serious consequences and health risks associated with their consumption. There is a silver lining, you could say, in the fact that soda consumption rates have been falling rather dramatically over the past several years, with alternatives, like seltzer and carbonated water, becoming more popular.
So, maybe people are figuring it out?
Another interesting thing to think about is that if sugary beverages do pose such a significant health risk, and can lead to some serious health damage, should a regulatory framework be adopted that treats them in a similar fashion to other risky products? Think about cigarettes, for example — smoking one cigarette isn’t really going to cause irreversible harm to anyone. But developing a habit in the teenage years can turn a one-time user into a lifelong customer, and if we’ve learned anything from the tobacco industry, that’s the ultimate goal.
But here’s the thing: If we think of sugary beverages in the same vein as tobacco — and let’s not forget, peopledo get addicted to sugar — then should we allow kids and teens to actually drink this stuff, without making an informed, adult decision regarding the long-term health effects? It’d be very difficult to put a stop to it, but it’s an idea to chew on.
It’s also necessary to address the concerns about personal freedom; that is, it should be up to the individual as to what they do or do not put in their body, be it alcohol, tobacco, or Mountain Dew. While it seems obvious that the only negative outcome of sugar consumption is born upon the individual choosing to consume it, we know that’s not entirely true. Health care costs are driven up, in aggregate, as a result. And public resources need to be spent fighting the resulting diseases and health issues, like diabetes, and obesity.