A report in the BMJ which claims health risks in drinking artificially sweetened soft drinks and fruit juice has been labelled “atrocious” by drinks industry leaders.
The report admits its claims of a link between diabetes and artificially sweetened drinks are based on poor quality research.
The piece contains claims that sugar-sweetened drinks may have been responsible for nearly 2 million cases of diabetes in the US over a decade and 80,000 in the UK.
Yet the report itself admits that its claims on sugar-added drinks are based on “moderate” quality research findings, whilst describing its call to extend the link of a warning with diabetes to thousands of other products with artificial sweeteners as being based on “low quality” evidence.
“The quality of evidence was limited,” says a press release by the BMJ. “None the less, the authors warn that neither artificially sweetened drinks nor fruit juice are suitable alternatives to sugar sweetened drinks for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.”
However, the conclusion of the report admits the evidence against artificially sweetened products is weak.
“Although artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice also showed positive associations with incidence of type 2 diabetes, the findings were likely to involve bias,” it says.
Action on Sugar welcomed the report of more evidence of the dangerous impact of “sugary” drinks and the need for a sugar tax.
“More evidence is showing the alarming impact of sugary drinks on our health, the healthcare service and the economy,” said AOS nutritionist Kawther Hashem.
“It’s therefore imperative that reformulation, a duty on sugary drinks and protecting children from the industry’s aggressive marketing of such products are key components of David Cameron’s obesity strategy.”
However, one drinks industry source described the report as “atrocious.”
“The researchers openly admit that this report is full of holes, yet it’s being press released by the BMJ in what appears like a blatantly political piece of reporting,” she said.
Gavin Partington, BSDA director general, said: “This is a health campaign statement masquerading as an academic study as even the authors accept no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.
“Experts worldwide agree that diabetes is the result of many factors including family history, lifestyle and weight.
“The persistent focus on a single ingredient or product is neither helpful to consumers nor based on evidence of the importance of a balanced diet overall.”
”As a scientist I was disheartened by the latest BMJ article and press release publicising research from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge University on sugary drinks in the diet,” stated Barbara Gallani, director of regulation, science & health at the FDF.
”Authors state that ‘studies analysed were observational, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect’. Unfortunately, this strong caveat did not prevent the inclusion of a headline-grabbing and highly speculative estimate on the number of diabetes cases that sugar sweetened soft drinks may give rise (and yet may not give rise!) to.”