A recent study has purportedly concluded that adults who consumed more than 21 percent of their daily calories from added sugars (those found in sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, candy, and other processed foods) doubled their risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality. Quanhe Ye et al., “Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults,” JAMA Internal Medicine, February 2014. Led by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study relied on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 1998-1994, 1999-2004 and 2005-2010, which showed that more than 70 percent of adults receive at least 10 percent of their caloric intake from added sugars. The results also allegedly found that, compared to participants who consumed less than 8 percent of calories from added sugar, those who consumed approximately 17-21 percent of calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of CVD mortality, raising questions about recommended sugar consumption guidelines issued by the World Health Organization, Institute of Medicine and American Heart Association.

As University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine Professor Laura Schmidt explains in a concurrent commentary on the study, “Yang et al. inform this debate by showing that the risk of CVD mortality becomes elevated once added sugar intake surpasses 15% of daily calories—equivalent to drinking one 20-ounce Mountain Dew soda in a 2,000-calorie daily diet. From there, the risk rises exponentially as a function of increased sugar intake, peaking with a 4-fold increase risk of CVD death for individuals who consume one-third or more of daily calories in added sugar.” Schmidt argues that these findings not only provide physicians and consumers “with actionable guid- ance,” but lend support to sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxation efforts. “[SSBs] are by far the single largest source of added sugar in the American diet, accounting for 37.1 percent of all that is consumed nationally,” she writes. “[Yang et al.’s] prospective analysis further documents that even relatively modest but regular consumption of SSBs—drinking one 12-ounce soda a day—increases the risk of CVD mortality by almost one-third, independent of total calories and other cofactors. This study thus underscores the appropriateness of evidence-based sugar regulations, specifically, SSB taxation.”