Sugary Beverages and Cancer Risk

Juice Drinks

Research linking sugary beverages to weight gain and obesity is why AICR recommends avoiding these drinks, with obesity a cause of nine cancers. For both children and adults, reducing sugary beverages can have numerous health benefits.

Parents misconceptions on sugary drinks

As sugary soda intake has nudged downwards in recent years, the prevalence of sugary drinks such as energy drinks and flavored waters has increased.

Now a new study shows that many parents of children and teens believe that some drinks with high amounts of added sugar – especially fruit drinks, sports drinks and flavored waters – are healthy options for children. Research suggests that children who are overweight have a greater risk of becoming overweight adults, increasing their risk of cancers as adults.

Published in Public Health Nutrition, the study found that almost all (96%) of the surveyed parents gave sugary drinks to their child in the month before the survey. The beverage purchased most was fruits drinks, by 77 percent of parents. Sugary sodas and sports drinks were the next most cited drinks parents bought for their children, by 62 percent and 51 percent of parents, respectively. Over a third of the parents purchased flavored waters.

Among parents of 2 to 5 year olds, 80 percent offered their children fruit drinks, such as Capri Sun or Sunny D. Forty percent provided regular soda.

When asked about the healthfulness of different types of drinks categories, almost half of parents rated flavored waters as healthy and more than a quarter of parents considered fruit drinks and sports drinks to be healthy. Fewer than 10 % of parents considered energy drinks, regular soda and diet soda to be healthy for their child.

Beverage Pie Chart: Alcoholic beverages 21%; Lowfat milk and milk drinks 8%; 100% fruit or vegetable juice 10%; Sweetened beverages 35%; coffee and tea 8%

Percent of beverage energy from various beverages, all persons 2+.

Drinking added sugars

Approximately one-half of  the U.S. population consumes sugary drinks on any given day. Teenagers and young adults consume more sugar-sweetened drinks than other age groups.

For Americans ages 2 and over, sweetened beverages provide an estimated one-third of our beverage calories, notes the dietary guidelines report. And for adults, beverages provide over half of Americans' added sugars, according to government data. 

These drinks provide little satiety, making it easy for calories to add up quickly. They also provide little to no nutrients or health benefits.

Cancer and chronic disease prevention

The Public Health Nutrition study comes at a time when added sugars and sugary beverages became highlighted in last month's 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report. The report included evidence for a variety of health outcomes, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain - as well as cancer. It is the scientific foundation for the 2015 Dietary guidelines.

Sugary drinks have been linked to poor diet quality, weight gain, obesity, and, in adults, type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The strong and consistent evidence showing added sugars from food and/or sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with excess body weight in children and adults, led to the reports findings.

The report concluded: "The reduction of added sugars and sugary-sweetened beverages in the diet reduces body mass index (BMI) in both children and adults…Similarly, added sugars should be reduced in the diet and not replaced with low-calorie sweeteners, but rather with healthy options, such as water in place of sugar-sweetened beverages."

The World Health Organization and the DGAC report recommends intake of added sugars stay below 10 percent of total calories.

Avoiding sugary drinks is one of AICR's recommendations for cancer prevention. AICR/WCRF reports concluded that regularly consuming sugary drinks contributes to weight gain. For adults, aside from smoking, staying a healthy weight is the single most important factor to reduce cancer risk.

Note: The study cited in Public Health Nutrition was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation.


Christina R Munsell et al. "Parents beliefs about the healthfulness of sugary drink options: opportunities to address misperceptions." Public Health Nutrition. FirstView Article. Published online: 11 March 2015

Randy P. LaComb, MS; Rhonda S. Sebastian, MA; Cecilia Wilkinson Enns, MS, RD, LN; and Joseph D. Goldman, MA. Beverage Choices of U.S. Adults What We Eat in America, NHANES 2007-2008. Food Surveys Research Group
Dietary Data Brief No. 6. August 2011.

Part D. Chapter 1: Food and Nutrient Intakes, and Health: Current Status and Trends—Figures. Percent of beverage energy from various beverages, all persons 2+

Mesirow MS, Welsh JA. Changing Beverage Consumption Patterns Have Resulted in Fewer Liquid Calories in the Diets of US Children: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014 Nov 7. [Epub ahead of print]

Dong D. Wang, et al. Trends in Dietary Quality Among Adults in the United States, 1999 Through 2010. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(10):1587-1595.

Cynthia L. Ogden et al. Consumption of Sugar Drinks in the United States, 2005–2008. NCHC Data Brief. August 2011.

Signup for CRU
       Please leave this field empty

More From This Issue

    Make an Impact

    Your gift provides resources for cancer patients and survivors and helps fund cancer research.

    Give Now »

    Published on March 18, 2015

    facebook twitter pinterest aicr blog