Canadians will have a steep price to pay if sugary drink consumption continues to rise, study finds

A study estimated has estimated the potential ramifications caused by overconsumption of sugary beverages in Canada. ©iStock/piotr_malczyk

Researchers from the University of Waterloo estimate that if Canadians continue the current consumption level of sugary beverages, it will result in 63,000 deaths related to high sugar consumption and cost the Canadian healthcare system an approximate C$50bn (US$38) over the next 25 years.

The research was commissioned by the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Diabetes Association, Childhood Obesity Foundation, Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada, and Heart & Stroke.

According to the research study, Canadians purchase 15 ounces of sugary drinks per day, which amounts to roughly over one standard-size soda can per day. Young Canadians between the ages of nine and 18 consumed the most sugary drinks compared to any other age group, drinking an average of almost 20 ounces per day.

“The health and economic burden from sugary drinks in Canada is alarming. Cutting back on sugary drinks is one of the best ways to reduce excess calorie intake and to maintain a healthy body weight,” Dr. David Hammond, associate professor, school of public health & health systems, University of Waterloo, said.

Simulating projected costs estimates

To estimate the health and economic impact of Canadians’ sugary drink consumption, researchers developed a simulation model drawing from multiple studies and disease/cost classifications systems.

In the model, the health effects of sugary drinks are mediated primarily through increased body mass index (BMI).

The GBD provided epidemiology and cost data of the 19 diseases associated with a diet high in sugar such as Type II Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Direct healthcare costs, which include hospital care, physician care, drugs, other professionals, public health, and other health spending, were calculated using Canada’s most recent national disease-specific costs study, the Economic Burden of Illness in Canada (EBIC) 2005-2008, and the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s (CIHI) National Health Expenditure Database (NHEX).

Sugary drinks extend beyond soda

While soda consumption (diet and regular) has been on the decline in recent years, the research found that Canadian consumers are turning to other forms of sugary beverages including energy drinks, sweetened coffee, flavored water, sweetened tea, flavored milk, sports drinks, and fruit juice.

According to sales data from Euromonitor International, per capita sales volume of energy drinks have increased by 638% between 2004 and 2015. Sweetened coffee ranked just below energy drinks growing 579% in the 11-year time span.

If current rate of sugary beverage consumption, researchers estimate that there will be more than 100,000 cases of cancer, 40,000 strokes, and nearly 1m cases of type 2 diabetes over the next 25 years.

“The relentless rise of this disease does not have to be a foregone conclusion as we make every effort to end diabetes through education and policy changes,” Dr. Jan Hux, chief science officer at the Canadian Diabetes Association, said.

Proposed actions

To help curb the rise of negative health impacts linked to sugary drink consumption, the study calls for a comprehensive approach including ensuring access to safe and free water, restricting food and beverage marketing to children, public education, better food labeling, revisions to Canada’s Food Guide, and developing ways to make unhealthy choices less attractive and healthy choices more affordable.

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