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AICR Food Facts

Sugar-Sweetened Drinks: Increase Risk of Obesity and Overweight

This content was last updated on January 22, 2020

The Cancer Research

Research shows that sugary drinks are a cause of weight gain, overweight and obesity. Excess body fat is a cause of at least a dozen cancers.

Limiting sugary sodas, energy drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages reduces the risk of cancer by helping to avoid overweight, obesity and weight gain.

Current Evidence*

There is convincing evidence that sugar-sweetened drinks INCREASE the risk of:

  • weight gain, overweight and obesity

This is important, because there is strong evidence that excess body fat increases the risk of at least 12 different cancers among adults.

Interpreting the data

Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages contributes to weight gain, overweight and obesity in both children and adults. Sugar-sweetened beverages are any liquids that have added sugars, whether that’s cane sugar, beet sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, dextrose, fructose, glucose, honey, malt syrup, or some other form of sugar.

  • Examples of sugar-sweetened drinks include regular soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, tonic, lemonade, fruit punch and coffee and tea based beverages that are sweetened with some form of added sugar.

Sugar-sweetened drinks are a concentrated source of calories that make it easy to consume more than you need. Strong evidence from short-term controlled trials and long-term observational studies shows that frequent consumption promotes weight gain. Human studies support limiting sugar-sweetened beverages as a way to reduce calorie consumption, limit long-term weight gain, and promote weight loss in people who have overweight or obesity.

There is no strong evidence in humans to suggest that artificially sweetened drinks with minimal energy content, such as diet sodas, are a cause of cancer.


*After a systematic review of the global scientific literature, AICR/WCRF analyzed how sugar-sweetened drinks affect the risk of developing cancer.

  • Evidence categorized as “convincing” is the strongest and means that research shows a causal relationship to cancer—either decreasing or increasing the risk—that is considered unlikely to change with additional studies. The research must include quality human studies that meet specific criteria and biological explanations for the findings.
  • Evidence categorized as “probable” means there is strong research showing a causal relationship to cancer—either decreasing or increasing the risk. The research must include quality human studies that meet specific criteria and biological explanations for the findings.
  • A “convincing” and “probable” judgment is strong enough to justify recommendations.
  • Evidence categorized as “limited suggestive” means results are generally consistent in overall conclusions, but it’s rarely strong enough to justify recommendations to reduce the risk of cancer.
Source: AICR/WCRF. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective, 2018


  1. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute of Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Expert Report 2018. Diet, nutrition and physical activity: Energy balance and body fatness. Available at dietandcancerreport.org.
  2. Luger M, Lafontan M, Bes-Rastrollo M, Winzer E, Yumuk V, Farpour-Lambert N. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain in Children and Adults: A Systematic Review from 2013 to 2015 and a Comparison with Previous Studies. Obes Facts. 2017;10(6):674-693.
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  4. Raynor HA, Champagne CM. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Interventions for the Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(1):129-147.
  5. Pan A, Malik VS, Hao T, Willett WC, Mozaffarian D, Hu FB. Changes in water and beverage intake and long-term weight changes: results from three prospective cohort studies. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013;37(10):1378-1385.
  6. Makarem N, Bandera EV, Nicholson JM, Parekh N. Consumption of Sugars, Sugary Foods, and Sugary Beverages in Relation to Cancer Risk: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies. Annual Review of Nutrition. 2018;38(1):17-39.