Milloy: No, Sugary Drinks Not Linked With Diabetes

The perpetual junk science machine that is the food nanny establishment is out with another whopper: sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) cause diabetes.

Published in the British Medical Journal by an international team of researchers, a study reports that: (1) consumption of one SSB per day increases the risk of type two diabetes by 18 percent; and that (2) about 2 million cases of diabetes over the next 10 years will be caused by SSBs.

But the study is not based on original scientific research so much as it is statistical smoke-and-mirrors.

Instead of studying a large group of randomly selected and well-characterized SSB consumers and non-consumers over a period of years to compare the difference in diabetes outcomes, the researchers instead dubiously combined the results of 17 previously published studies to produce an exceedingly weak statistical correlation between SSBs and diabetes.

Like the proverbial mixing of apples and oranges, the researchers arbitrarily combined the results of differently conducted studies —  some relatively large, some relatively small, and all of different quality — in hopes of producing a single, more statistically meaningful result.

Ironically, the key result —  the purported 18 percent increase in risk of diabetes for daily consumers of SSBs —  isn’t at all meaningful. As the National Cancer Institute has pointed out, “In epidemiologic research, [increases in risk of less than 100 percent] are considered small and usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias or effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident.”

Consider, for example, that in none of the original 17 studies did the researchers know with any degree of certainty the quantity of SSBs or other dietary sugars consumed by study subjects. Study subjects were merely asked to recall how much they consumed without any verification by the researchers. The same goes for other key factors, such as competing risk factors for diabetes. This is not science; it is guesswork.

If all this is not enough to case doubt on the claim that SSBs cause diabetes, how about the study’s other interesting but non-headlined result — that consumption of diet drinks increased the risk of diabetes by 25 percent?

So the study results are entirely nonsensical as well as non-scientific.

The researchers admit in the fine print of their study that, “causality [between SSBs and diabetes] has not been established.” Yet that doesn’t stop them from imagining all the millions cases of diabetes to be caused by SSBs.

The reality is that, after decades of research into whether sugar consumption is linked with increased risk of diabetes, no convincing (or even interesting) evidence has been produced. Diabetes is a complex, multifactorial condition that cannot be simplistically blamed on politically incorrect foods and beverages.

There are no “good” or “bad” foods and beverages, and there are no “healthy” or “unhealthy” foods and beverages. There are just foods and beverages, all of which have unique nutritional profiles that consumers should consider when planning their diets. Don’t fall for food nanny demonization.

Steve Milloy publishes (@JunkScience).

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