- The consumption of sugary drinks, including 100% fruit juice, has been "significantly associated" with an overall cancer risk while consuming artificially sweetened beverages was not, according to a study from French researchers published this week in The BMJ.
- The study tracked 101,257 adults from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort for five years or more. Their consumption of both sugary drinks and artificially sweetened beverages was assessed through 24-hour dietary records. "Sugary drinks" meant those with 5% sugar or more, including fruit juices without added sugar.
- "They suggest that sugary drinks, which are widely consumed in Western countries, might represent a modifiable risk factor for cancer prevention," the study conclusion said. But the researchers also said their results need replication in other large-scale prospective studies.
This isn't the first study to find a link between drinking sugary beverages and a variety of health problems. U.S. researchers recently associated fruit juice, sugar-sweetened soda and non-juice drinks with a higher mortality risk. As more negative studies show health risks associated with sugary drinks, it could hurt business for the juice industry.
The American Academy of Pediatrics already recommends against giving fruit juices to children younger than 1 because of its high sugar content, lack of protein and fiber and increased cavity risk. In addition, Consumer Reports also recently found elevated levels of heavy metals in 21 of 45 juices tested.
None of this is good news to manufacturers of juice products — including popular brands such as Kraft Heinz's Capri Sun, Gerber, Mott's, Ocean Spray, Welch's, Minute Maid and Tropicana; the last two which are owned by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, respectively. In response to the French study, an American Beverage Association spokeswoman told CNBC that beverage companies are joining up to assist consumers with limiting sugar consumption.
"It's important for people to know that all beverages, either with sugar or without, are safe to consume as part of a balanced diet," she said.
The new study didn't specify brands the group consumed, but it noted there were 97 sugary drinks and 12 artificially sweetened beverages. The first category included carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks, syrups, 100% juice, fruit drinks, sugar-sweetened hot beverages, milk-based sugar sweetened beverages, sport drinks and energy drinks. The second cohort included beverages containing non-nutritive sweeteners such as diet soft drinks, sugar-free syrups and diet milk-based beverages.
The researchers found their study backed up nutritional recommendations to limit consumption of sugary drinks, including 100% fruit juice. They also suggested that policy actions such as taxing these beverages and restricting marketing could help reduce cancer incidence. If either of those regulations were widely enacted, it could meaningfully hurt juice sales.
The soda industry is already experiencing this pressure. Soft drink makers have been fighting against soda taxes in numerous U.S. cities, and for good reason.
A recent study on the effectiveness of soda taxes found a 52% drop in consumption of the beverage in the first three years after it was adopted in Berkeley, California. However, other studies show that although consumption may fall, people are just going elsewhere to buy these beverages to avoid paying the tax. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a tax in Philadelphia caused a "significant and substantial decline" of 38% in soda sales even when increases in neighboring areas are included, USA Today noted.
As these studies and taxes have developed, soda manufacturers have invested heavily in better-for-you drinks such as sparkling waters, teas and sports drinks to attract consumers who have been reducing their sugar load. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, soda's market share dropped from 22.1% in 2012 to 19.7% in 2017. Both juice and soda manufacturers will likely continue to face obstacles and look to alternative beverages as these studies scare consumers about the potential health risks.