Drinking sugary beverages such as sodas and fruit drinks may lead to 184,000 deaths each year worldwide, according to a study published in the journal Circulation, and researchers say the problem will only get worse if dietary changes aren't made.
In the global report looking at the health impact of sugar-sweetened beverages, researchers at Tufts University in Boston started with the number of deaths and disabilities from diabetes, heart disease, and cancers; then they examined 62 dietary surveys of more than 600,000 people across 51 countries from 1980 to 2010. Using meta-analyses of other published evidence on the harms of sugary beverages, they were able to calculate the direct impact on these chronic, deadly diseases.
The researchers concluded that in 2010, consumption of sugary drinks may have lead to approximately 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 45,000 deaths from heart disease, and 6,450 deaths from cancer.
"The numbers are absolutely staggering," medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips told CBS News.
In the study, sugary drinks were defined as any sugar-sweetened sodas, iced teas, fruit drinks, and sports or energy drinks, as well as homemade sugary beverages. One hundred percent fruit juices were excluded. "That's because it actually has some nutritional value," Phillips explained.
Mexico had the highest rate of deaths attributable to sugary drinks, with an estimated 405 deaths per million adults (24,000 total deaths). In the United States, an estimated 125 deaths per million adults were attributable to drinking sugary beverages (25,000 total deaths).
Overall, younger adults had a higher percentage of chronic diseases as a result of sugary drink consumption than older adults -- exceeding 1 in 10 of all diabetes and obesity-related deaths in nearly every region of the world -- suggesting the problem will only get worse in the future.
When asked about future projections 10 or 20 years from now, based on today's rates of sugary beverage intake, lead study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian told CBS News that "disease would substantially increase, by at least two-fold over current estimates."
"I think the real takeaway here is that with the added sugary beverages, there are no health benefits," Phillips said. "The researchers want to make a call for a global effort to get rid of them from our diet all together."
The study authors acknowledge that other dietary risk factors account for higher death rates, including sodium intake, which accounted for about 2.7 million deaths in 2010, and inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables, which led to 4.7 million deaths that year. But unlike these factors, which would require major long-term changes to agricultural systems and the food supply, sugary drink consumption is a single factor that can be easily reduced.
"Sodium is in everything," Mozaffarian said. "It's ubiquitous across the whole food supply. And everyone needs to eat fruits and vegetables but most people don't consume enough so the whole population is affected. But sugar-sweetened beverages only affect those who drink them and all we have to do is just stop buying them."
Mozaffarian suggested several strategies to reduce sugary drink intake worldwide. "We have very good science about the effective policies to reduce sugar-sweetened beverages," he said. "One effective policy is taxation. We know the change of the price reduces consumption."
Mozaffarian pointed to a preliminary report released earlier this month showing an average reduction of six percent in sugary drink consumption in Mexico, which passed a 10 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in 2014.
He also called for quality standards in marketing and a shift in societal views of sugary drinks.
"We need to talk a lot more about the harms of sugar-sweetened beverages to change the culture so that you don't have Beyoncé and Michael Jordan -- two people whom I admire -- selling soda and sports drinks. Celebrities and athletes would never in good conscience advertise for cigarettes, so I think we need to change the culture to where it's just not okay to push soda."