Sugary drinks may increase risk of heart disease

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By Dr Oswald Thomas 

A few years ago, the Minister of Health in Antigua and Barbuda announced the government’s intentions to ban sugary drinks in the country. This was met with fierce debates and ferocious criticisms on both sides of the coin.

The main concern of this public engagement was around whether the ban would be a good nutritional idea by itself or not. Some wondered loudly who or what establishments would benefit if this became law.

Sir Molwyn Joseph’s views proved to be consistent with the findings of recent research on sugar-sweetened beverages. This study was published online last month in the British Medical Journal, led by researchers at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

The scientists studied a little over 12,000 participants and found that high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) were linked to elevated risk for premature death and incidence of cardiovascular disease for people with type two diabetes.

This has significant meaning for us in Antigua and Barbuda and the wider Caribbean as whole. The data shows that non-Hispanic Blacks are the second largest ethnicity to be diagnosed with diabetes in the adult population.

Participants who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages and who had been diagnosed with type two diabetes at baseline were followed during the research. 

At every two to four years, they reported on how often they consumed SSBs which included sodas, lemonade, and fruit punch. 

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Doctors warn that a high sugar diet can lead to obesity and type two diabetes (Photo courtesy

The Harvard study concentrated on type two diabetes patients’ consumption of different beverages as opposed to other studies prior that connected health outcomes and consumption with cardiometabolic health, mortality, and weight change. However, these studies focused on the general population. 

The lead author of the study Qi Sun, associate professor in the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology, posited that “beverages are an important component of our diet, and the quality can vary hugely”.

He went on to say that “people living with diabetes may especially benefit from drinking healthy beverages – but data has been sparse. These findings help fill in the knowledge gap and may inform patients and their caregivers on diet and diabetes management”.

The findings also indicated that everyone who consumes sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with an eight percent higher all-cause mortality rate. 

Conversely, the study is not without good news. It was found that there was a decreased mortality for premature death and cardiovascular disease among the participants who regularly consumed healthier beverages like coffee, tea, low-fat cow’s milk, and/or plain water.

The research indicated that replacing one such daily serving of sugar-sweetened beverages with one serving of coffee is associated with an 18 percent lower risk for premature death and 20 percent lower risk for cardiovascular disease, tea is 16 percent and 24 percent lower risk, plain water 16 percent and 20 percent lower risk, while low-fat cow’s milk had a 12 percent and 19 percent lower risk for premature death and cardiovascular diseases. 

The issue for us to ponder is, should the choice to buy or not to buy sugar-sweetened beverages be limited to the public schools and colleges, government and privative offices, sporting events, concerts, hospitals and health care faculties, or should the Ministry of Health engage in education of the general public, as well as mandating that all persons seen by their doctor who have or are at risk of diabetes must be informed on their risk factor for premature death and cardiovascular disease?

Should these individuals be referred to a nutritionist to help them practice proper lifestyle changes? This educational approach would highlight and promote a healthy meal and beverage consumption diet-planning.

It is nearly impossible to legislate personal health preferences, but good laws mixed with public health education could help reduce challenges and improve positive attitudes about wellness, prevention and wellbeing commitments.

This approach could inspire people to truly care about good healthy habits as consistent with their own needs and values. Legislation without holistic educative strategies could lead to people simply choosing to find substitute foods and drinks to consume that are just as detrimental or deadly to their quality of living and being. 

When new policies are introduced and implemented, if the masses believe they are factual, fair and beneficial to all, people are more likely to support them. 

Dr Oswald Thomas (BPS, MS, PhD, ChT, PhD) is a Staff Clinical Psychologist with New Jersey State of Health and Addictions in one of New Jersey’s psychiatric hospitals and a Clinical Psychologist with Long Island City Psychotherapy Services. Dr Thomas serves as a director on the governing board of the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean.

Thoughts and views expressed in Observations do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Observer Newsco, its management or staff.

Thoughts and views expressed in Observations do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Observer Newsco, its management or staff.

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