Yesterday some Big News hit the internet: Diet Sodas Linked With Health Risks (this link courtesy of Reuters Health). Now according to the press release, diet sodas are linked with increased risk for heart disease and diabetes; specifically that adults who drank one or more sodas a day had a 50% increased risk of ‘metabolic syndrome.’ This syndrome is characterized by excess fat around the waist, high ‘bad’ cholesterol and low ‘good’ cholesterol, and high blood pressure among other things. Furthermore, this syndrome places a person at risk for heart disease and diabetes.
The study, published in the most recent issue of the journal Circulation, included over 6000 middle-aged women and men who were observed over the span of four years. Findings indicated that those who drank one or more normal (not diet) soft drink a day had:
- A 31% greater risk of becoming obese
- A 25% greater risk of developing high blood sugar and triglycerides
- A 32% greater risk of having low good and high bad cholesterol
Those who drank one or more diet soda per days had
- A 50-60% greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome
So why would diet soda consumption, even though diet sodas are sugar-free and very low-calorie, contribute to a constellation of symptoms usually associated with obesity? The study illustrates the crucial difference between correlation and causation when considering the significance of data.
“On average, soda drinkers tend to eat more calories, consume more saturated fat and trans fat, eat less fiber, exercise less and be more sedentary,” Vasan [the lead author] said in a telephone interview.
That is, drinking sodas, and diet sodas, may be correlated with other life choices that are less than healthy. The drinking of diet soda, while unlikely to largely contribute to (cause) the development of metabolic syndrome, is a behavioral trait that is associated with others that are negative. So if you DO exercise and otherwise eat a balanced diet, you shouldn’t feel awful about drinking a diet soda every now and then: its the behavioral patterns which are reflected in constant diet soda drinking rather that the soda itself which may be harmful.