American Heart Association study shows sugar-sweetened drinks linked to visceral fat

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December 25 2021 12:00 am

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — According to a study by the American Heart Association, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages every day is associated with an increase in a particular type of body fat that may affect diabetes and heart disease risk.

The study was published in The American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation. Data from the federally supported, ongoing research showed that among middle-aged adults, there was a direct correlation between greater sweetened beverage consumption and increased visceral fat.

Visceral or “deep” fat wraps around a number of internal organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines. Visceral fat affects how hormones function and is thought to play a larger role in insulin resistance, which may boost type 2 diabetes and heart disease risk.

Researchers examined sugar-sweetened beverage and diet soda consumption. They did not observe the same associations with diet soda, which is often promoted as low in calories and sugar.

The findings of the study are exceptionally critical for Alabamians, as the State of Obesity says Alabama has the fourth highest rate of diabetes in the nation. Alabama also has the second highest rate of death by heart disease in the United States, and cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of residents of Alabama.

“There is evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverages with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” said Caroline S. Fox, M.D., M.P.H, lead study author and a former investigator with the Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. She is currently a special volunteer with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Our message to consumers is to follow the current dietary guidelines and to be mindful of how much sugar-sweetened beverages they drink. To policy makers, this study adds another piece of evidence to the growing body of research suggesting sugar-sweetened beverages may be harmful to our health.”

More than 1,000 people participated in the study, average age 45 and nearly half women. They answered food questionnaires and underwent CT scans at the start and end of the study to measure body fat changes.

Over a six-year follow-up period, visceral fat volume increased by: 658 centimeters cubed for non-drinkers, 649 centimeters cubed for occasional drinkers, 707 centimeters cubed for frequent drinkers and 852 centimeters cubed for those who drank one beverage daily.

The follow-up period was studied independent of the participants’ age, gender, physical activity, body mass index and other factors.

Jianto Ma, MD., Ph.D, post-doctoral fellow at the NIH and co-leader of the study said that while it’s possible that added sugars may contribute to insulin resistance, a hormonal imbalance that increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest contributor of added sugar intake in the United States, with sucrose or high fructose corn syrup being two of the most common sugars found in the drinks. This includes caffeinated and de-caffeinated soda, carbonated and non carbonated drinks with added sugar, fruit juice and lemonade.

Daily consumption of added sugar is high; between 2001-2004, the usual intake of added sugars for Americans was 22.2 teaspoons per day, or an extra 355 calories. Evidence revealing the health risks associated with drinking sweetened beverages led the American Heart Association to provide added sugar recommendations in 2009, which for most women is no more than 100 calories per day of added sugars, and for most men no more than 150 calories per day.

“Our findings are in line with current dietary guidelines that suggest limiting the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages,” Ma said.

The study was funded by Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and Boston University School of Medicine.

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