- A new study published in JAMA found drinking at least two 8 ounce glasses of soda a day is linked to increased risk of death. These findings held true for both artificially sweetened and sugar-sweetened varieties.
- Artificially sweetened soft drinks were more closely connected to death from circulatory disease, while sugar-sweetened soda had a closer correlation to deaths from digestive disease — illnesses associated with the liver, appendix, pancreas and intestines.
- The study included 452,000 individuals from 10 European countries and followed the participants’ health for 18 years. Researchers concluded it appears “to support ongoing public-health measures to reduce the consumption of soft drinks.”
This study seems to be another nail in the coffin of the American soda giants. This spring, the American Heart Association released a study showing women older than 50 who drink two or more artificially sweetened beverages daily have an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and death. Through the years, other studies have linked soft drink consumption to stroke, dementia, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Although these effects are noteworthy for soda drinkers, the JAMA study — and just about every other similar study — comes with the caveat that results are observational, meaning they don't demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship. This has given soda companies and trade groups the ability to push back and claim soda can be safely consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Even with no explicit link between soda consumption and chronic disease, sales in the carbonated soft drink market have been slipping for years. Not only have consumers been voluntarily forgoing soda in favor of coffee, water and other better-for-you beverages, but cities and counties have been making it politically more difficult to sell soft drinks. Cities in states including Washington, Michigan, New Mexico, Illinois and Pennsylvania have passed soda taxes in an effort to curtail soda consumption.
Soda taxes aren't always successful. Amid outcry from manufacturers and retailers, Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, repealed its soda tax in 2017. And last year, California banned new local soda taxes until 2031.
Even keeping policy changes at bay, soda companies know their dominance has fizzed out. Many are reinventing soda offerings for a new generation. Some of those new products include smaller cans, better-tasting sweetener options, and flavor versions aimed at more health-conscious consumers.
Coca-Cola released Orange Vanilla Coke in February, which The Wall Street Journal says helped drive 6% sales growth for the brand in the first quarter — and 4% volume growth in soda compared to last year.
PepsiCo has also recarbonated its soda business. According to the company's most recent earnings report, North American beverage revenue increased 2.5% in the second quarter of 2019. Although much of that growth can be attributed to Starbucks RTD coffee and the Lifewtr and bubly water brands, the earnings report showed a turnaround in Pepsi and Mountain Dew.
This study is more likely to serve as ammunition in policy discussions around soda taxes and public health continue, but it is unlikely to ruffle consumer feathers much. Still, soda companies should work to formulate products that avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners. Stevia, monk fruit or agave could all present solutions and are rapidly gaining popularity with consumers. Companies making the switch could attract some new consumers or revive old relationships with those who set down the soda can in an effort to improve their health.