Sugary drinks increase risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of how much you exercise

Glass of cola

February 14, 2024—Daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages may heighten the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) even among those with above average physical activity levels, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published on January 5 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Lorena Pacheco, research scientist in the Department of Nutrition, was lead author.

The adverse health effects of sugary drinks like sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks are well-known; less clear is if exercise can offset them. To investigate this question in terms of risk of CVD, the researchers used data from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study to examine the health outcomes of more than 100,000 Americans over the course of 30 years. They zeroed in on participants’ self-reported intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and physical activity levels and whether they were diagnosed with CVD, defined as fatal or nonfatal coronary artery disease or stroke.

The study found that adding one sugary drink per day was associated with a roughly 18% increased risk of CVD regardless of how much a person exercised. Participants who consumed two or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day and met the CDC-recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week had a 21% higher risk of developing CVD compared to those who rarely or never consumed sugar-sweetened beverages. The researchers observed that even sugary drink consumers who were in the top 25% in terms of physical activity level had a heightened risk of CVD.

The findings “provide further support for public health recommendations and policies to limit people’s intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as to encourage people to meet and maintain adequate physical activity levels,” said Pacheco in a February 12 HealthDay article.

Additional Harvard Chan co-authors included Deirdre Tobias, Yanping Li, Shilpa Bhupathiraju, Walter Willett, David Ludwig, Danielle Haslam, Frank Hu, and Marta Guasch-Ferré, all faculty and researchers in the Department of Nutrition.

Read the HealthDay article: You Probably Can’t ‘Exercise Away’ the Calories in Sodas: Study

Read an article in The Healthy: New Research: Drinking This May Increase Heart Risk by 50%

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