Sugary drinks could increase risk of bowel cancer

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Is high SSB consumption linked to increased risk of bowel cancer? GettyImages/petrenkod
Is high SSB consumption linked to increased risk of bowel cancer? GettyImages/petrenkod

Related tags sugar tax Bowel cancer sugar sweetened beverages Soft drink Fruit juice Colon cancer

Fresh research suggests high consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is associated with a higher risk of early-onset colon colorectal cancer in women.

Rates of early-onset bowel cancer are on the rise in multiple geographies, including the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and some parts of Europe and Asia.

While experts don’t know what is causing this increase, previous research​ has suggested associations with poor diet – notably the overconsumption of rich foods in the Western Diet.

It may not be all about fatty foods, however. Given consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) has been associated with other diseases, including type 2 diabetes, researchers have decided to put them under the spotlight.

Analyzing sugar intake in under-50s

The research was undertaken in the US, where SSBs – a category comprised of soft drinks, fruit drinks, sport drinks and energy drinks – is the leading (39%) source of added sugar in US diets. Twelve percent of the population consumes more than three servings per day.

Scientists leveraged data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, which is an ongoing prospective cohort study of 116,429 US female registered nurses aged 25-42 years at the time of enrolment in 1989.

Participants were asked to submit semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaires every four years, including details on consumption of SSBs.

Of the 95,464 women studied, the researchers documented a total of 109 incidents of early-onset colorectal cancer.

Bowel cancer linked to high SSB consumption?

Higher SSB intake in adulthood was associated with a higher risk of the disease, compared with participants who consumed less than one serving per week. Those who consumed two servings or more per day had a 2.2-fold higher risk, with a 16% higher risk per each additional serving/day of SSB intake.

Notably, each serving per day increase in artificially sweetened beverages or fruit juice consumption in adulthood was not associated with risk of early-onset colorectal cancer.

Concerning teenagers, SSB consumption was also associated with a higher risk of early-onset bowel cancer. Each serving/day increment of SSB intake at age 13-18 years was associated with a 32% higher risk of subsequently developing the disease.

“Considering the well-established, adverse health consequences of SSBs and the highest consumption being characterised in adolescents and young adults under age 50 years, our findings reinforce the public health importance of limiting SSB intake for better health outcomes,” ​noted the researchers.

“With recent downward trends, limiting SSB intake may serve as an effective and actionable strategy to curb the rising incidence of early-onset colorectal cancer.”

How to cut sugar from diets?

UK campaign group Action on Sugar appeared unsurprised by these findings.

“Long term, eating too much sugar leads to weight gain, raising the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, as this latest research has indicated,” ​Action on Sugar Chair, Professor Graham MacGregor, told FoodNavigator.

To reduce sugar consumption, MacGregor suggested effective strategies could include sugar taxes and reformulation schemes. In the UK, the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) was enforced in April 2018. By July 2019, the Government reported the ‘hugely successful’ SDIL has removed the equivalent of 45,000 tonnes of sugar from soft drinks.

“In addition to the successful sugar tax levy, reformulation (the gradual reduction in the amount of sugar in food and drink) is the most effective policy in reducing sugar intake…” ​we were told.

Source:BMJ Journals: Gut
‘Sugar-sweetened beverage intake in adulthood and adolescence and risk of early-onset colorectal cancer among women’
Published online 6 May 2021
DOI: 10.1136/gutjnl-2020-323450
Authors: Jinhee Hur, Ebunoluwa Otegbeye, Joh Hee-Kyung, et al.

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