Six thousand deaths over the last decade could have been avoided if Americans drank less soda and sugary beverages, according to an analysis from the University of California, San Francisco.
The analysis found that America's growing sweet drink addiction has taken a hefty toll through health outcomes such as heart disease and diabetes and via higher health care costs.
Diana Ray of Danville, Ky., is familiar with the negative effects of soda addiction. Since she retired from her job as a registered nurse, Ray's consumption of soda steadily inched upward until she was drinking five to eight cans a day -- as much as an extra 1,200 extra calories and 328 grams of added sugar.
"I always have a Pepsi open on the table next to the bed, when I'm in bed in the morning with my coffee," Ray said. "It's an addiction."
An expensive addiction, Ray added, as the household goes through a 24-pack every other day, which adds up at $7 a pop.
But Ray's biggest motivation for quitting is rescuing her health and well-being: Since she switched from diet to regular soda she has put on 30 pounds, which is "horrifying" to her, especially because diabetes runs in her family.
The new analysis, presented Friday at the American Heart Association's 50th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, offers a picture of just how horrifying the damage done by excess consumption of sugary drinks can be.
Using a computer model and data from the Framingham Heart Study, the Nurses Health Study and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers estimated that the escalating consumption between 1990 and 2000 of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages, which they abbreviated as "SSBs," led to 75,000 new cases of diabetes and 14,000 new cases of coronary heart disease.
What's more, the burden of the diseases translated into $300 million to $550 million increase in health care costs between 2000 and 2010.
The model is "really important because it gives us a big picture that might serve as a more effective impetus for health policies to curb consumption," said Dr. Litsa Lambrakos, lead author and internal medicine resident at the University of California, San Francisco.
"A lot of people drink these drinks on a daily basis and they have little to no nutritional value. We want [the public] to know that they should not be considered a staple of the American diet," she said.
Data shows that more Americans are drinking soda or other sugary drinks on a daily basis -- and having larger portions, more frequently -- than ever before, Lambrakos said.
This trend is not only expensive for the American public, it's downright deadly. The analysis estimates that a combined 21,000 years of potential life were lost to Americans over the last decade when increased consumption of the drinks led to premature death.
And it's not just the amount of sugar in the beverages, it's the kind. Lambrakos cited one study that found that people drinking soda or SSBs had an increased risk of diabetes while those drinking similar calorie and sugar loads of 100 percent fruit juice had no such increased risk.
But the beverage industry vehemently disagreed with this claim.
"Heart disease and diabetes are complex problems with no single cause and no simple solutions. Consuming sugar-sweetened beverages is not a risk factor" for either condition, the American Beverage Association (ABA) wrote in a press release on the analysis.