Statistical Malpractice Claim: Soda kills 180,000 globally

But not a single study credibly links soda consumption with diabetes, heart disease or cancer … all are multifactorial diseases, the precise causes of which rarely can be medically determined due to lack of data, biological understanding and/or resources. Because of these shortcomings, it is statistical malpractice to estimate such “body counts” through the attributable fraction formula (also discussed in Chapter 7 of Junk Science Judo).

The media release is below.


180,000 deaths worldwide may be associated with sugary soft drinks

American Heart Association Meeting Report

Sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks may be associated with about 180,000 deaths around the world each year, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are consumed throughout the world, and contribute to excess body weight, which increases the risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers. Using data collected as part of the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study, the researchers linked intake of sugar-sweetened beverages to 133,000 diabetes deaths, 44,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases and 6,000 cancer deaths. Seventy-eight percent of these deaths due to over-consuming sugary drinks were in low and middle-income countries, rather than high-income countries.

“In the U.S., our research shows that about 25,000 deaths in 2010 were linked to drinking sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Gitanjali M. Singh, Ph.D., co-author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass.

Researchers calculated the quantities of sugar-sweetened beverage intake around the world by age and sex; the effects of this consumption on obesity and diabetes; and the impact of obesity and diabetes-related deaths. Of nine world regions, Latin America/Caribbean had the most diabetes deaths (38,000) related to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in 2010. East/Central Eurasia had the largest numbers of cardiovascular deaths (11,000) related to sugary beverage consumption in 2010. Among the world’s 15 most populous countries, Mexico — one of the countries with the highest per-capita consumption of sugary beverages in the world — had the highest death rate due to these beverages, with 318 deaths per million adults linked to sugar-sweetened beverage intake.

Japan, one of the countries with lowest per-capita consumption of sugary beverages in the world, had the lowest death rate associated with the consumption of sugary beverages, at about 10 deaths due to per million adults.

“Because we were focused on deaths due to chronic diseases, our study focused on adults. Future research should assess the amount of sugary beverage consumption in children across the world and how this affects their current and future health,” Singh said.

The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 is an international, collaborative, systematic effort to quantify the global distribution and causes of major diseases, injuries and health risk factors.

The American Heart Association recommends adults consume no more than 450 calories per week, from sugar-sweetened beverages, based on a 2,000 calorie diet and offers tips on how Life’s Simple 7™ can help you make better lifestyle choices and eat healthier.


11 thoughts on “Statistical Malpractice Claim: Soda kills 180,000 globally”

  1. I wonder if you are prepared to bet your life or the lives of those you care about on your skepticism about obesity and its [non?] causative relationship to disease. I’m not. In fact I’m betting my life that losing weight is going to improve my health and specifically reverse my arterial plaque. I’ll let you know in about 6 months.

  2. The soda banner movement will reach maturity when their claims of annual deaths from soda pop in the US exceeds the combined population of China and India.

  3. Howdy DR22
    Many cause factors have been loosely linked with overweight and weight gain and obesity — but only loosely, which was my point. None of the links have been very consistent — and all of them are somewhat dependent on how one defines “overweight” or “obese”.
    Weight and body fat composition also have only weak links to health outcomes like diabetes and heart disease. We find people with joint problems, diabetes and heart disease along every point in the body-fat-composition spectrum. Perhaps that’s part of why there’s never been a clear medical criterion for overweight or obese.
    At all events, obesity and metabolic syndrome are individual issues. As such, I don’t consider them appropriate areas for public policy at all. If people believe they have a duty to inform or persuade, let them combine and use their own resources to that purpose. If people believe that managing weight and exercising will benefit them — as I do — let us cut back on some foods and increase our exercise. Some people seem to be sensitive to salt or fat in the diet as others may not be; those people should inform themselves and guide their own habits. But not yours and not mine.

  4. There is little I disagree with and much that I agree with in your post. I don’t know why you believe overweight has never been linked to anything. Not only is that odd. It is on its face implausible. It seems even careless (has no one competent gotten around to it, or what?). Countless people have lost weight and it hasn’t all been “by accident.”

    Moreover, I hope you agree that substantially obese people are at risk for all kinds of health problems (however, I actually wonder if you do agree!!).

    Thus as a matter of public policy it would seem a high priority to get the scientists to work and figure out the causes and cures for obesity. I’m with most here in not coercing overweight people to lose weight, but some coersion may be acceptable — higher insurance co-pays, warning labels, public service messages, higher life insurance premiums, and so forth.

  5. Perhaps you are conflating “healthy food” with “health food” (it’s not clear). Anyway you point out what must be obvious when you think about it, namely obesity is typically a disease of the poo[er] classes. Not only are sugars and starchy vegetables tasty,…. they’re cheap.

    Of course what is “healthy food” is a matter of debate. I would argue for those who are obese, an Atkins-like diet at least works… and you can stay on it indefinitely BECAUSE YOU NEVER GET HUNGRY on the diet. However, as to your point, protein is more expensive than carbs. I would argue that while the expense of becoming thin[er] via an Atkins diet is certainly higher than say a vegetarian diet, the benefits of being thin[er] overwhelm the costs of getting there in either case.

  6. Howdy david and wilbert
    Humans went onto a carb-rich diet pretty much as soon as we began farming. Grains provided more calories for the resources used to raise them and calories are the basic unit of nutrition.
    Foods are more packaged now than they used to be and perhaps more processed. I know there are claims that processing removes valuable elements like vitamins but processing may also make valuable elements more available — I just don’t know about that part. Less-processed food may (I think it does) pass through with less digestion so we may get about the same amount of trace stuff from canned vegetables as from fresh. Canned is often more available — although I favor fresh myself and I’m glad we have an international commerce that makes fresh produce much more available.
    As far as vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients go — well, they are trace nutrients. If you take in more than your body will use, you have trace-rich urine and stool. A few of them are potentially toxic at high doses too, although it’s very difficult to eat to the point of Vitamin A toxicity.
    There have been fat people and skinny people through history; there still are fat and skinny people. Nothing has been consistently linked to obesity — not diet, not calorie intake and that seems very strange, not activity levels, not genetics, although all of them seem to play a part. Obesity itself has never been consistently linked with health problems, which is also quite strange.
    We have an older population than before because of low birth rates and longer lives; that alone is likely to shift the weight pattern because older people tend to be heavier. (It’s starting to happen to me with no change in eating or activity habits.)
    People who are a bit careful in the grocery store can spend the same amount on foods with less fat and even less carbohydrate if they choose. One has to watch how broad a brush one uses, but the people most likely to wind up on dependency programs are also those more likely to quickly choose what they are used to eating than to take some time and consider what may (or actually may not) be healthier alternatives.
    I know there are advocates of the paleo diet, heavy on meat, nuts and vegetables. This may be a better choice for some people, maybe for a lot of people. But it was also a diet of feast and famine and I have doubts that it’s any kind of panacea — I’ve seen a lot of diet advice announced on the front page and rescinded months later on the last page.

  7. David@ What I find odd is the healthy food is more expensive then the garbage ones. Unfortunately we have a lot of folks who cannot afford healthy food with their Government dependance welfare checks. The Government is good at Imposing rules on it’s population … Why not one that would make Good healthy food less Expensive … It would be a start toward better health.

  8. I agree with all the comments but am still concerned that too much skepticism blinds some of us to the real dangerous truth suggested by the article – namely the obesity epidemic, its impact on public health, and the contribution (cause?) that carbohydrate rich diet has to all this.. While it is of course absurd to say that sugary drinks alone are responsible, it is less absurd to say that over consumption of easily digestible carbohydrates (sugars and starchy vegetables) are a cause or even the main cause of obesity.

    What level of proof do we need to claim that substantially overweight people are at substantially higher risk of a variety of life-threatening / debilitating disease? (yes, we need to quantify ‘substantially’). If one accepts that, then one should easily accept that ‘losing weight’ for such people would reduce said risks (again substantially). Whether they can or will do so remains an open question.

    Personally I believe the only easy way of losing weight is to cut out carbohydrates in your diet (an Atkins-like approach) because absent carbs your body goes into ‘fat-burning mode’ and stops craving carbohydrates (ie., you stop being hungry all the time). But this is off subject.

  9. ” may be associated ” and then proceed to say it is a fact. How about 2000 children a day dying of malaria ? when are they going to make that news worthy?

  10. Terminal diabetes is a disease of the elderly. Hardly the demographic for over-consuming sugary drinks.

    How foolish is it for diabetics to be drinking sugary drinks in the first place? It isn’t the drink maker’s fault that their customer is stupid.

    Oh no . . . I can see it now: big warning labels on Coke saying, “Contains sugar. Don’t drink this product if you have diabetes. Don’t consume more than 12 units of this product a day. Floss every day.
    Look left-right-left before stepping into the street. Et cetera.”

  11. People don’t die half-dead or 10% dead, unlike Shrodinger’s cat. Claiming that “soda kills 180k people worldwide per year” would be impossible to back up statistically or medically, as our host says. But even if it were true, 180k annually out of what, 70 million or more who die each year, seems like it’s way down the list of things to worry about fixing. I’d start with dirty water and malaria.

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