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Why scientists say soda may increase your risk of diabetes even if you’re thin

If you’re sipping on diet soda to cut back on calories and slim down, U.S. researchers are throwing a wrench into your diet plans. Getty Images

Slim or overweight, you’re increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you’re sipping on sugary drinks, new research suggests.

Scientists have warned that sugary drinks may promote weight gain, which could be tied to developing diabetes. But new British research suggests that weight isn’t a factor – a daily serving of soda, fruit juice or other sweetened drinks could be increasing your chances of developing diabetes by 13 per cent over a decade regardless of weight.

University of Cambridge doctors came to their conclusions after poring over the results of 17 observational studies that included more than 38,000 people.

“Even if people have the same body weight or body size, higher consumption of sugar sweetened beverages by one serving per day was associated with 13 per cent higher risk of type 2 diabetes,” lead researcher, Dr. Fumiaki Imamura, said in a statement.

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READ MORE: Is diet soda adding to your belly fat?

He suggested that the sugar in these sweetened drinks triggers a blood sugar spike. Your body, in turn, increases insulin resistance even if you’re a healthy weight.

“Our body is able to handle it, but cumulative effects over time exhaust the body’s functions and lead to the onset of diabetes,” Imamura told Health Day.

Imamura and his team said that a daily serving of pop increased diabetes risk by 18 per cent over the course of a decade if weight wasn’t a factor. Once weight was factored in, the risk dropped to 13 per cent.

READ MORE: Why diet soda may be making you eat more

There were about 12,000 new cases of type 2 diabetes in the 17 studies. The diagnoses were tied to an unhealthy lifestyle.

The findings even applied to diet sodas but the link wasn’t as concrete.

Last year, the World Health Organization dropped the gauntlet on consumers with its updated recommendations: sugar intake should be just five per cent of your total calories, half of what the global health agency had recommended years ago.

For an average woman who eats about 2,000 calories a day, that’s roughly 25 grams of sugar – less than half of a can of pop. A 12-ounce serving of Coca-Cola has 39 grams of sugar or 9.75 teaspoons.

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The soda industry was quick to poke holes in the findings.

READ MORE: Sweeteners create cocaine-like addictions: Canadian study

The Canadian Beverage Association said the researchers “admit that no definitive conclusions” were reached and that current evidence is still limited. In an email to Global News, the CBA said that the study made “a great number of other assumptions.”

“Drawing unsubstantiated conclusions is neither helpful to consumers nor based on evidence. In addition, the persistent focus on a single ingredient or product as the cause, while acknowledging that cause is assumed, limits the integrity of studies like these,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“Diabetes is a serious public health challenge. Experts worldwide agree that diabetes is the result of many factors including family history, lifestyle and weight, but those risk factors do not include beverage consumption,” it said.

The CBA, among other industry associations, said it’s supporting consumers in balancing their calorie and sugar intake.

READ MORE: Coke changes recipe; Pepsi still contains cancer-causing chemical, U.S. watchdog says

The American Beverage Association said the findings don’t point to a direct link between sugary drinks and diabetes.

“Even so, our industry is committed to being part of real solutions to public health challenges,” the ABA said in a statement.

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“We are helping people manage their calorie and sugar intake by providing a wide range of beverage options, a variety of package sizes and clear, easy-to-read information to help them make the choice that’s right for them,” the statement read.

Right now, the ABA is working on an initiative that’s calling on Americans to reduce calories coming from beverages by 20 per cent.

READ MORE: Could sugar substitutes cause diabetes?

Imamura says that out of the 20.9 million new cases of type 2 diabetes the United States is projecting over the next decade, sugary drinks may be what causes 1.8 million of them.

“We hope this study stimulates future research and future debate or post-interventions to reduce people’s consumption of sugar sweetened beverages,” he said.

Imamura’s full findings were published Tuesday night in the British Medical Journal. Read the study here.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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