Study reveals link between soft drink consumption and increased risk of death


Several glasses of soft drinks with ice

Consumption of soft drinks is linked with higher rates of mortality, according to a new multinational European study.

The study, which involved over 450,000 participants from 10 European countries, found that those who drank two or more glasses of soft drinks, including sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened soft drinks, per day had a higher risk of mortality from all causes than those who consumed less than one glass per month.

Specific associations were also observed between artificially sweetened soft drinks and deaths from circulatory diseases and sugar-sweetened soft drinks with mortality resulting from digestive diseases.

This study adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests possible negative associations between soft drinks and common causes of deaths such as heart disease and stroke. Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard

The population-based cohort study, published today in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, involved participants from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) from Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Participants were surveyed on their food and drink consumption between 1992 to 2000 and followed up an average of 16 years later.

Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, Co-author of the study and Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Fellow from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health said: “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests possible negative associations between soft drinks and common causes of deaths such as heart disease and stroke. While further research is needed to understand the mechanisms underpinning these proposed associations, the government must build on the success of the soft drinks industry levy, through sustained efforts to make the healthy choice the easy choice is urgently required.”

Whilst the study found an association between consumption of soft drinks and increased mortality the authors stress that the link is a complex one and cannot be assumed to be causal.

Dr Neil Murphy, one of the study’s lead authors, based at IARC in France, said: “We found that compared with those reporting low consumption, participants who reported high consumption of soft drinks were at greater risk of all-cause death in our study sample. This doesn’t mean than soft drinks cause early death as in these types of studies (observational epidemiology) there are other factors which may be behind the association we observed. 

“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.

“We made statistical adjustments in our analyses for BMI, smoking habits and other mortality risk factors which may have biased our results, and the positive associations remained. Additionally, and importantly, we generally saw similar associations in people smoking and non-smoking and among lean and obese participants which adds weight to the soft drink and mortality association not being strongly influenced by smoking habits and BMI. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that these factors were influencing our findings, hence why we cannot say the associations we observe are causal.”


Jack Stewart

Jack Stewart
School of Public Health

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