French study suggests ‘possible’ link between sugary drinks and cancer

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Cancer Fruit juices Sugar

Another study suggests consumption of high sugar drinks - including fruit juices - is associated with cancer risks.

There is a “possible​” association between the higher consumption of sugary drinks such as sugar-sweetened drinks and 100% fruit juice and an increased risk of cancer, according to a study that concluded that policy actions, such as taxation and marketing restrictions targeting sugary drinks, could “potentially​” contribute to the reduction of cancer incidence.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal,​ looked at 101,257 healthy French adults (21% men; 79% women) with an average age of 42. The participants answered questionnaires to track their diets for three days every two years. They were followed for an average of five years with the maximum for nine years.

Several well-known risk factors for cancer, such as age, sex, educational level, family history of cancer, smoking status and physical activity levels, were taken into account.

More men than women drank daily sugary drinks (90.3 ml versus 74.6 ml, respectively). During follow-up 2,193 first cases of cancer were diagnosed (693 breast cancers, 291 prostate cancers, and 166 colorectal cancers). The average age at cancer diagnosis was 59 years.

One glass of sugary drinks a day linked to cancer risk

The results showed that a 100 ml per day increase in the consumption of sugary drinks was associated with an 18% increased risk of overall cancer and, for women, a 22% increased risk of breast cancer. Both sugar-sweetened drinks and 100% fruit juice were associated with a higher risk of overall cancer.

Of note, even sugary drinks with lower sugar content were associated with cancer in this study, probably because they were consumed in higher amounts than sugary drinks with higher sugar content, said the authors.

No cancer link from artificially sweetened drinks

The consumption of artificially sweetened beverages was not associated with the risk of cancer, but the authors warned this may have been owing to a relatively low consumption level in this sample.

No association was found for prostate and colorectal cancers, but the numbers of cases were more limited for these cancer locations.

The authors said the results may have been down to the effect of the sugar contained in sugary drinks on visceral fat (stored around vital organs such as the liver and pancreas), blood sugar levels, and inflammatory markers, all of which are linked to increased cancer risk.

Cautious interpretation is needed

However, the study was observational, meaning it could not establish cause or prove that sugary drinks cause cancer. Other chemical compounds, such as additives in some sodas, may have also have played a role, the authors added.

The data support policy action, say the authors

Nevertheless, the study sample was large and they were able to adjust for a wide range of potentially influential factors, they said. What’s more, the results were largely unchanged after further testing, which suggested that the findings withstand scrutiny.

But despite the study being observational, and needing replication in other large scale studies, the findings added to a growing body of evidence indicating that limiting sugary drink consumption, together with taxation and marketing restrictions, might contribute to a reduction in cancer cases, said the authors.

“These data support the relevance of existing nutritional recommendations to limit sugary drink consumption, including 100% fruit juice, as well as policy actions, such as taxation and marketing restrictions targeting sugary drinks, which might potentially contribute to the reduction of cancer incidence​,” they concluded.


‘Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort’



Authors: Eloi Chazelas, Bernard Srour, Elisa Desmetz, Elisa Desmetz, Chantal Julia, Valérie Deschamps, Nathalie Druesne-Pecollo, Pilar Galan, Serge Hercberg, Paule Latino-Martel, Mélanie Deschasaux, Mathilde Touvier.   

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1 comment

This study does not prove cause and effect.

Posted by Diane Welland,

As a registered dietitian working with the Juice Products Association, I would like to point out that studies such as this one do not prove cause and effect. A person’s health is dependent upon the totality of their diet and lifestyle – not one specific food or beverage.

There is no conclusive evidence that drinking 100% fruit juice is associated with a higher risk of cancer. Many studies have linked 100% juice to beneficial effects on human health and positive dietary patterns including higher intake of whole fruit.

One hundred percent juice is classified within the fruit group by the US Dietary Guidelines because it is nutritionally similar to the whole fruit it is squeezed from, and contains the same essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, magnesium and potassium with no added sugar.

With more than 80 percent of Americans not meeting the recommended fruit and vegetable servings, it’s important to encourage the beneficial consumption of fruit and vegetables in all forms, including juice. Learn more:

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