Chronic diet soda consumption increases belly fat and contributes to greater risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases, finds a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. It is directly linked to greater abdominal obesity in adults 65 years of age and older.
Metabolic syndrome, a combination of risk factors that may lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, is one of the results of the obesity epidemic. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.9 billion adults were overweight (body mass index of 25 or more) in 2014. Of this group, 600 million people fell into the obese range (BMI of 30 or more), a figure that has more than doubled since 1980.
In an effort to combat obesity, many adults try to reduce sugar intake by turning to non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, or sucralose. Previous research shows that in the past 30 years, artificial sweeteners and diet soda intake have increased; yet the prevalence of obesity has also seen a dramatic increase in the same time period.
"Our study seeks to fill the age gap by exploring the adverse health effects of diet soda intake in individuals 65 years of age and older," explains lead author Dr.Sharon Fowler, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "The burden of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, along with healthcare costs, is great in the ever-increasing senior population."
The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging (SALSA) enrolled 749 Mexican and European-Americans aged 65 and older at the start of the study (1992-96). Diet soda intake, waist circumference, height, and weight were measured at study onset, and at three follow-ups in 2000-01, 2001-03, and 2003-04, for a total of 9.4 follow-up years.
The three follow-ups had 79.1%, 73.4% and 71% surviving participants respectively. Findings indicate that the increase in waist circumference among diet soda drinkers, per follow-up interval, was almost triple that among non-users.
"The SALSA study shows that increasing diet soda intake was associated with escalating abdominal obesity, which may increase cardio metabolic risk in older adults," Fowler concludes. The authors recommend that older individuals who drink diet soda daily, particularly those at high cardio metabolic risk, should try to curb their consumption of artificially sweetened drinks.