- According to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, frequently drinking beverages sweetened with sugar increases mortality risk from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- The study also found that consumers had a slightly lower risk of dying if they substituting one sugary drink a day with an artificially sweetened drink. This finding was negated for women who drank four or more artificially sweetened drinks a day.
- Soda and other sweetened drinks like sports drinks still represent the single largest source of added sugar in the U.S. diet, even though consumption has reduced during the last decade.
This is the latest study to add to a body of literature that highlights the ill effects of sugary drinks on the body’s health. From weak bones to obesity to masking underlying health risks, soda has been linked to numerous ailments which most would rather avoid.
This latest study showing negative effects of soda followed 81,000 women and 38,000 men, none of whom had chronic conditions, for three decades. After 30 years of drinking soda, the study concluded that compared to those who drank less than one sweetened drink a month, adults who consumed more than two sweetened drinks a day had their risk of death increase by 21%.
While this is not the first study that soda companies have had to contend with, it is another nail in the coffin. Soda's share of the U.S. beverage market fell from 22.1% in 2012 to 19.7% in 2017, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, and there are no signs of a complete turnaround. In fact, after decades of soda's dominance, bottled water surpassed carbonated soft drinks in 2016 as largest beverage category by volume in the U.S.
This decline has recently been exacerbated in some areas as taxes have been levied on sugary drinks. A study by the American Journal for Public Health showed a 52% decrease in soda consumption in the first three years after the tax was implemented in Berkeley, California. However, the study also noted sales are migrating out of soda tax cities. In Philadelphia, soda sales just outside the city's border increased by 38%, a study showed.
Clearly, even though sugary drinks are bad for you, people still like their soda. And soda companies are using this advantage to fight back. New flavors, smaller portions that allow for higher margins even with fewer sales, and new formulas seem to be bringing some consumers back into the fold — at least temporarily. The efforts are showing signs of paying off. Coca-Cola, the world's largest non-alcoholic beverage maker, announcing a 6% jump in organic sales growth for third-quarter 2018.
Coca Cola has such confidence in the longevity of the sweetened drinks market that it invested in BodyArmor, which is marketed as a premium sports drink through its use of coconut water, low sodium and high potassium levels, the absence of artificial colors and use of sugar in place of high fructose corn syrup. The modern sports drink controls about 6% of the market and is Coke’s latest effort to tap into the post-workout beverage space. PepsiCo's Gatorade, far and away the market leader with about a 75% share. Coca-Cola has Powerade in its portfolio, but it has not been able to erode Gatorade's dominance.
While the AHA study points to sports drinks as another sugary culprit that can increase a person’s chances of early mortality, there is one bright spot for soda manufacturers. The study indicated switching to artificially-sweetened diet sodas was associated with a slightly lower risk level. Perhaps this presents an ideal way to not only build up the market in this space but also push stevia-sweetened products. As a natural sweetener, stevia has become the darling of alternative sweeteners. It not only replaces public enemy No. 1 — real sugar — but also does so without introducing extraneous chemicals.