Sugary drinks directly linked to conditions including heart disease, diabetes and cancer cause 184,000 deaths worldwide annually, a new study indicates.
The number of deaths attributed to consumption of sweetened sodas, sports/energy drinks, fruit drinks and iced teas includes 25,000 in the United States, researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts say.
Sugary drinks contribute to obesity and that elevates people's risk of a number of obesity-related diseases, says Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the university's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
Diseases related to obesity cause more than 17 million deaths annually worldwide, says Mozaffarian, senior author of the study appearing in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.
"It should be a global priority to substantially reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the diet," he says.
"Since this is a single food category without any health benefit, it is a natural thing to eliminate from our diets," he says.
The death toll from overconsumption of sugar-sweetened drinks is greatest in the world's low- and middle-income countries, with 3 of every 4 of such deaths occurring in poor or developing countries, the researchers say.
"Among the 20 countries with the highest estimated sugar-sweetened beverage-related deaths, at least eight were in Latin America and the Caribbean, reflecting the high intakes in that region of the world," notes study leader Gitanjali Singh.
Mexico, a country where diabetes afflicts a full 10 percent of the population, has the highest death rate in the world attributable to sweetened beverages.
The United States is second, with 125 deaths per million adults linked to the sweet drinks.
In Japan, in contrast - a country where the most popular beverages are unsweetened teas - deaths from sweetened drinks are almost negligible, the researchers noted.
In defining sugary drinks, researchers considered any drink sweetened with cane sugar, beet sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
In America, the average person consumes more than 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day, mainly from sugar-sweetened beverages. That equates to around 350 extra calories a day, researchers said.
While eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages will not eliminate all diet-related illnesses or obesity, Mozaffarian says, it is an easy and straightforward first step.
"This is not complicated," he says. "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."