Diet soda is very popular, as it is perceived to be the healthier alternative to sugar-containing sodas – although this has been challenged by many studies. A new study[i], recently published, says that increasing diet soda intake is directly linked to greater abdominal obesity in adults 65 years of age and older. This is especially worrisome, for this type of fat distribution is the most likely to lead to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
For the study, University of Texas researchers enrolled a large number of volunteers who were aged 65 and older at the outset. Diet soda intake, waist circumference, height, and weight were measured, and at three follow-ups for over 9 years.
Findings indicated that the increase in waist circumference among diet soda drinkers, per follow-up interval, was almost triple that among non-users: 2.11 cm versus 0.77 cm, respectively. After adjustment for multiple potential confounders, they found that waist circumference increases of 2.04 cm for non-users, 4.67 cm for occasional users, and 8.06 cm for daily users over the total 9.4-year follow-up period.
Does this information really portend a greater risk for heart disease? Unfortunately, it probably does: As reported—at least in women—in a recent national cardiology meeting, as compared with non-drinkers, those who drank at least two diet drinks daily had a 1.3X higher risk of cardiovascular disease with a similar increase in overall mortality.
Although this type of information does not prove that diet drinks are directly responsible for such bad outcomes, at least it places a severe warning to those consuming such drinks. It also places a burden on the makers of such beverages to prove that they are not unsafe. In the meantime, I recommend that all individuals who drink diet soda daily should try to eliminate their consumption of artificially sweetened drinks in favor of plain old water, or perhaps unsweetened tea.
[i] Fowler SPG, Williams K, and Hazuda HP. Diet Soda Intake Is Associated with Long-Term Increases in Waist Circumference in a Biethnic Cohort of Older Adults: The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society; Published Online: March 17, 2015 (DOI: 10.1111/jgs.13376)