Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

If you think you can placate your conscience by swapping a regular soft drink for a diet one, think again. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is now warning that consuming up to two diet drinks a day may increase the risk of early death by more than a quarter.

A new study found that people who consumed two or more glasses of soft drinks a day, regardless of whether they are regular or diet, were more likely to die from digestive diseases that affect the liver, intestines, pancreas and appendix compared with people who consumed less than one glass a month.

When comparing the consumption of regular and diet soft drinks, it was found that people who consumed at least two glasses of diet soft drinks have a 26% higher risk of early death than those who had one a month.

The study, led by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which forms part of the WHO, is the largest study to look at the links between death and soft drink consumption. It tracked more than 450,000 adults in 10 countries across Europe for an average of 16 years.

The results of the study were published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Internal Medicine at the beginning of September.

Study co-author Neil Murphy, a scientist at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said he hopes studies such as this will contribute to a better understanding of artificially sweetened soft drinks. “Our results for sugar-sweetened soft drinks provide further support to limit consumption and to replace them with other healthier beverages, preferably water,” he said.

The study took factors into consideration that could affect the risk of early death, including exercise, smoking, alcohol use, calorie intake and the consumption of fruits and vegetables and processed meats. Furthermore, it was limited to participants with a healthy weight.

The study was observational and as such didn’t prove that drinking up to two diet soft drinks a day will cause early death but it did show an association. The results appear to support public health measures such as sugar tax to curb the consumption of soft drinks.

Despite the positive association between diet soft drinks and early death, the researchers have called on more research to explore the possible additives in soft drinks such as aspartame.