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Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 10 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l2408

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Sugary drinks and cancer risk

The study by Chazelas et al. reports a possible association between higher consumption of sugary drinks and an increased risk of cancer. The authors also suggested that additives present in soft drinks may increase cancer risk, such as caramel colouring used in cola drinks. [1] It should be noted that these colourings are also used in diet drinks. According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, currently there is no evidence to link food additives with increased cancer risk except nitrites and nitrates in processed meat. [2]

There is, however, evidence that higher consumption of free sugars and sugars-sweetened beverages in particular, can promote weight gain and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and that being over-weight and obese can increase the risk of certain types of cancer, including colorectal cancer and postmenopausal breast cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends limiting sugar-sweetened drinks within its cancer prevention recommendations. [3]

Advice from Public Health England is that free sugars should not contribute more than 5% of the calories we consume and the consumption of sugars-sweetened beverages in particular should be minimised. Fruit juice counts as a portion of fruit and vegetables as it provides vitamins and minerals but portion sizes should be limited to 150 ml per day due to the free sugars content. [4]

Making healthy lifestyle changes is the most effective way to reduce cancer risk. These include regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, avoiding smoking and not drinking too much alcohol.

[1] Chazelas E, Srour B, Desmetz E, et al. Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ 2019;365:l2408.

[2] Hui S. Do food additives increase cancer risk? 3 April 2017.

[3] World Cancer Research Fund. Limit sugars-sweetened drinks.

[4] Public Health England. Why 5%? 17 July 2015.

Competing interests: No competing interests

20 July 2019
C Albert Yeung
Consultant in Dental Public Health
NHS Lanarkshire
Kirklands, Fallside Road, Bothwell G71 8BB