(CBS) Think weight gain and tooth decay are the only health risks associated with soft drinks? Think again. A new study shows that drinking two or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day increases risk for heart disease - in women, at least.
For the study - presented on Sunday at an American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Fla. - University of Oklahoma researchers looked at consumption of sugary drinks among nearly 4,200 healthy men and women ages 45 to 84. The sugary beverages include soft drinks, sweetened mineral water, and nonalcoholic beer - regular, not diet.
Five years of follow-up showed that women who had regularly consumed sugary beverages had higher risks for heart disease and diabetes. Compared to those who drank less than one sugary drink a day, these women were nearly four times as likely to develop high blood levels of triglycerides - a type of fat associated with heart disease - and impaired blood sugar levels.
The study found no similar link between sugary drinks and heart disease in men. Why not? Study author Dr. Christina Shay said it might be because women have lower energy requirements than men. "They have smaller bodies, less muscle mass and need fewer calories than men," Shay told HealthDay. "It is possible that men need more sodas to see an effect."
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
Not surprisingly, many of the female soda drinkers gained weight during the study - and excess weight is a known risk factor for heart disease. But many women who didn't necessarily gain weight still gained extra fat around their waists. And experts say belly fat is dangerous because it includes visceral fat, which lies deep inside the abdomen and surrounds internal organs. This kind of fat is associated with high blood pressure and cholesterol, and impair insulin metabolism.
What's the bottom line?
"Cutting back on sugar-sweetened beverages is an easy way to improve health," Dr. Stacey Rosen, associate chairman of cardiology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, told HealthDay. A lot of things that keep us healthy are hard work, she said, "but cutting back on sweetened drinks isn't one of them. We are not talking about doing an hour of exercise or buying expensive organic foods."
The American Heart Association has more on heart disease.