The Dietary Guidelines for Australians recommend consuming only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing sugars. The recommendations suggest limiting our intake of soft drinks, cordials and juice drinks, warning that just 250ml of soft drink may contain up to 30g of added sugar.
However, despite the health risks associated with sugary drinks, their popularity remains high. Australia is in the top ten countries for per capita consumption of soft drink. In 2012, the campaign Rethink Sugary Drinks, found that Australians bought 1.28 billion litres of carbonated or still drinks with sugar.
Sugar-sweetened drinks are considered a key contributor to rising obesity rates in Australia. What’s more, a recent study has linked the regular consumption of sugary drinks to increased levels of visceral fat; a serious risk factor for the development of diabetes and heart disease.
Visceral fat is a harmful form of body fat that is stored around the abdominal cavity, wrapping around internal organs, including the liver, pancreas and intestines. While all humans have some level of visceral fat, too much of it can interfere with hormonal function, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Due to these risk factors and the high consumption of sugary drinks in Australia, researchers from the National Institute of Health set out to investigate what role these drinks play in the development of visceral fat.
The researchers analysed the data of over 1,000 participants of an average age of 45 who were part of the Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing project supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The participants underwent scans to measure changes in visceral fat, both before and after the six-year trial period. They also completed food questionnaires in which they detailed their consumption of sugar-sweetened and ‘diet’ drinks.
The participants were then divided into four categories; non-drinkers of sugar-sweetened beverages, occasional drinkers, frequent drinkers, and those who consumed a sugary drink at least once daily.
The results showed that the participants who consumed sugary drinks on a daily basis experienced the highest increase in visceral fat at 852cm3, compared with an increase of 658cm3 for non-drinkers.
Dr Caroline Fox, co-leader of the study, explained that these findings provide further evidence that sugary drinks are bad for health; ‘Our message to consumers is to follow the current dietary guidelines and to be mindful of how many sugar-sweetened beverages they consume’.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, women with a waist of 101cm or more, and men with a waist of 88cm or more are at a greater risk of having health problems as a result of too much visceral fat.