Older adults who choose a diet high in sugary beverages — including healthy-sounding 100 percent fruit juices — are at greater risk of dying early than those who limit such drinks, researchers found.

The study appeared in the June 2019 issue of Obesity. Here are the highlights.

The context

Researchers have long known that one in six deaths in the United States can be attributed to heart disease. Many studies have looked at the connection between consuming foods and beverages with high sugar content and medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity and high levels of cholesterol or triglycerides. But the mortality risk associated with the high consumption of sugary beverages, including 100 percent fruit juices, has not been fully studied previously.

The data

The researchers looked at data obtained from more than 30,000 participants in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, which was originally designed to look for incidence of strokes among those living in the southeastern part of the country and among black residents.

Participants were enrolled in the REGARDS study between February 2003 to October 2007. They were followed every six months through 2013.

In the new study, researchers at Emory University, the University of Alabama and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York excluded those who had a known history of heart disease, stroke or diabetes and those who did not fill out the self-administered dietary portion of the REGARDS study.

They then looked at the data from Nov. 2017 to Dec. 2018 for about 13,400 adults older than age 45 and estimated their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and 100 percent fruit juice based on a questionnaire. They measured the amount of total energy or calories in each 12-ounce serving.

There were 168 participants in the study sample who died of coronary artery disease and 1,000 who died from any cause during the follow-up period.

The results

Researchers found that for each additional 12-ounce drink of a sugary beverage consumed there was an 11 percent higher risk of dying during the study period and a 24 percent increased risk of dying if the drink was 100 percent fruit juice. The findings of this study suggest that older adults who drink more sugary beverages have an increased risk of death.

The caveats

The study relied on self-reported information, which can be unreliable. The beverage estimates were only reported when data was first collected and about one-third of all the participants in the larger REGARDS study did not fill out the dietary information. In addition, while there was a large national sample to study, the number of people in the study who died during the short follow-up period was small.

Next steps

Longer-term, followup studies are needed to further define the mortality risk that the high consumption of sugary beverages presents.