Soda's Link to Heart Risk Likely Lifestyle Related

Nutritionists say lifestyle factors are more likely culprits of disease.

ByABC News
July 23, 2007, 2:53 PM

July 23, 2007 — -- New research linking soda consumption with an increased risk of heart disease is sparking concern among nutrition researchers and physicians who say the findings could give consumers the wrong idea about their favorite fizzy beverages.

Carbonated soft drinks, rarely the darlings of nutrition research, have been implicated by previous research in childhood obesity, diabetes and other ills -- problems compounded by the growing consumption of these beverages in recent years.

Now a new study published in the current issue of the journal Circulation suggests that drinking a soda or more per day -- even if it's a diet soda -- is associated with an increase in other risk factors for heart disease.

The study's researchers report that those who said they drank a soda or more per day had a 31 percent greater chance of developing obesity, a 30 percent increased risk for gaining inches around the waist, a 25 percent chance of developing high blood sugar levels and a 32 percent greater chance of developing lower "good" cholesterol levels.

"This study further emphasizes the importance of lifestyle measures for preventing metabolic disease," said Ramachandran Vasan, senior author of the Framingham Heart Study and one of the authors of the current study.

But Vasan, who is also a professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, added that the link found in the study between diet soda and heart ills was unexpected.

"This was sort of a surprising answer, as it did not seem to make a difference whether the soda was regular or diet," Vasan said. "Especially because we know that diet soda is a zero-calorie drink."

Vasan and others are concerned that the results of the study could be misinterpreted by the public as evidence of a direct link between soda consumption and an increase in heart risk.

"What we have here is an association, it does not really imply causality," Vasan cautioned.

"Clearly, a diet soda should not increase risk factors," said Dr. Dean Ornish, diet book author and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. "It's almost certainly an association -- i.e., people who drink soft drinks probably are more likely to lead unhealthful lifestyles in other ways."