Sugary drink consumption by youth far exceeds recommended limit, researchers say

Sugary drink consumption projected to result in more than 63,000 deaths over the next 25 years, Canadian researchers estimate.

Researchers project health effects including diabetes, heart disease and cancer

In 2015, Canadians bought about 440 millilitres of sugary drinks per person a day on average. Young people are drinking the most, about 600 millilitres per day. (Shutterstock)

The guzzling of sugary beverages such as juice and energy drinks is projected to result in more than 63,000 deaths over the next 25 years in Canada, according to research commissioned by leading health charities.

Children and youth consume the most of these drinks, the researchers warn.

The Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Diabetes Association and Heart & Stroke were among the groups who commissioned David Hammond, a professor of health at the University of Waterloo, to look at current levels of sugary drink consumption and to project the outcome in terms of health and costs to the health-care system.

The groups on Friday released a summary of the findings, which haven't yet been peer reviewed by a medical journal.

"The average youth in Canada consumes somewhere about 600 millilitres of sugary drinks per day," Hammond said in an interview, "and that obviously comes with a lot of added sugar, so up to around 13 sugar cubes per day, and that's far in excess of what dietary recommendations are in terms of limits."

After those aged nine to 18, Canadians aged 19 to 30 drank the next highest amount of sugary drinks, about 500 millilitres a day, the researchers projected.

The researchers obtained sales data for 2001 to 2015 for these beverage categories:

  • Non-diet cola and non-cola carbonated soft drinks.
  • Ready-to-drink teas and coffees.
  • Energy drinks.
  • Sports drinks.
  • Flavoured bottled water.
  • Flavoured milk.
  • Drinkable yogurt.
  • Concentrates (defined as fruit drinks).
  • Juice drinks (up to 24 per cent juice).
  • Nectars (24 to 99 per cent juice.)
  • 100 per cent juice.

Most consumers would be shocked to discover the sugar levels in juice and chocolate milk, Hammond said.

They estimated that over the next 25 years, sugary drink consumption will be responsible for nearly a million cases of Type 2 diabetes, 300,000 cases of ischemic heart disease such as heart attacks and 100,000 cases of cancer.

"These numbers are major in terms of public health impact by any measure."

Excess sugar intake is linked to excess weight, which increases the risk of at least 11 different cancers, the Canadian Cancer Society says. They include cancers of the breast, colon, rectum, esophagus, gallbladder, kidney, liver, ovary, pancreas, thyroid and uterus, as well as leukemia.

Hammond called the lack of up-to-date national data "embarrassing," saying more information is needed to understand the heath and economic costs of proposed policy measures. These include:

Those measures go beyond simply advocating for healthier food and toward dealing with the food supply, he said.

In a statement released in response to the research, the Canadian Beverage Association said that liquid refreshment makes up seven per cent of Canadians' average daily calorie intake.

The beverage group said it supports efforts to address obesity and diabetes and calls itself a leader in voluntary self-regulation.

The Childhood Obesity Foundation and Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada also commissioned the research. 

The sugar levels in juice may surprise some Canadians. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)