As educators we all know that soft drinks are not the healthiest beverage and we discourage our patients from drinking them, but it’s nice to find even more research backing our recommendation. Being in the health field, I always feel we are at war with the big media and the billion dollar companies coming up with flashy amazing commercials on our patient’s TV screens. When there are four vending machines on every street corner that have at least ten options of sugar sweetened beverages, we have to be armed with data that proves why they are not the best options for patients with diabetes.
A European study published this spring was done with a case cohort of 15,374 people showed that for every 12 fluid ounce (typical can) of sugar-sweetened beverage, the risk of diabetes was increased by 22 percent compared to drinking just one can a month or less. There has been some research in the U.S. showing increased body weight related to sugar-sweetened beverage consumption but it was good to see similar results in other countries.
The study also included fruit juice drinks and did not find a link to diabetes. They used cohorts from eight European countries who were involved in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition - InterAct study. InterAct specifically looked at diabetes. Participants answered questions that measured their food intake over the year before the survey, caloric intake during the study, and consumption of juices, nectars and soft drinks. The highest level of sugar-sweetened beverages were among those male, physically active, less educated, smokers, and with a higher waist circumference compared to those consumers of less sugar-sweetened beverages.
One of the teaching tools I use when discussing soft drinks in our diabetes education classes is to take an empty 20 ounce bottle of soda and put the teaspoons of sugar in there so that they could see the actual amount of sugar in the soda. To find out how much sugar to put in there, just take the total amount of sugar in the entire bottle and divide by four since there are four grams in a teaspoon. I have also seen educators use stacked sugar cubes.
Many of my patients with diabetes would acknowledge that they knew soft drinks are not good for them, but would still drink them occasionally or have them in their house for their high-risk family members to drink so I think it’s important to continue to educate them. Although sugar sweetened beverages are not the only risk factor for diabetes, it’s an easy modifiable risk factor. I’d love to hear some creative ways other educators have presented soft drinks to their classes - comment below!