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Say It Ain't So -- A Can of Soda a Day Can Increase the Risk of Cancer for Men by 40 Percent?

A new medical study poses huge questions for the future of soft drinks.

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The soda cancer warning signs continue to siren. It's no wonder that fear of a California could-cause-cancer label was enough to motivate soda multinationals into comparatively lightspeed removal of their called-out carcinogens.

It's no wonder that fear of a California may-cause-cancer label was enough to motivate soda multinationals into comparatively lightspeed removal of their called-out carcinogens.


Exploiting causal opportunities like these to bring soda multinationals to heel for their obvious cancer threats is crucial. But good luck finding enlightenment on soda and cancer at the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA), the National Institutes of Health ( NIH) or its National Cancer Institute ( NCI). A NCI spokesperson told AlterNet that he's "pretty sure" they have no conclusive research on the matter. "We have no fact sheet on soda on cancer," he said.

The NCI does have a  factsheet on Diet and Nutrition that sheds light on other areas like artificial sweeteners, fluoridated water and cruciferous vegetables. But most compelling is the NCI's  facstsheet on cancer and obesity, which it warns is associated with increased risk of cancers of the esophagus, breast, endometrium, colon, rectum, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, gallbladder... "and possibly other[s]." The NCI also notes that obesity comes complete with a higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and a number of other chronic diseases, all for an "markedly" increased share of Americans consuming themselves to death.

But the indispensable link missing from that causal chain is the  obvious link between soda and obesity. It's not rocket science: If soda is a major obesity threat, and obesity is a major cancer threat, then soda is a major cancer threat.

Like soda and cancer, soda and obesity used to be a hot-button issue. That is, until enough time, science and activism passed. But as one can tell by high-profile blowback from Michael  Bloomberg, who banned sales of large sodas while calling it the "single biggest step any city has ever taken" to "curb obesity," or Michelle Obama, who called obesity America's " number one greatest national security threat," administering global policy these days on soda and obesity is no longer political suicide. It's a shared reality received at last from power players who champion initiatives with motivational grabbers like " Let's Move!"

This is perhaps why a spokesperson for the American Medical Association responded to AlterNet's questions about soda and cancer with a reminder of its positions on soda and obesity, which like autism and other medical spectrums shelter less processable truths.

"Causal inference is the holy grail of epidemiology," Mueller said.

"You make a good argument that the causal link between soda and obesity, and obesity and cancer, could potentially be enough to establish causality," Drake told AlterNet. "Because of the direct link between diet and obesity, obesity is of course an easier sell."

Jacobson agreed. "Probably by far the biggest risk is due to the fact that drinking too much soda promotes obesity, and obesity promotes several types of cancer," he told AlterNet. "Coffee, decaf, tea, seltzer, flavored waters and water are certainly safer than liquid candy."

"Since cancer is affected by other environmental factors, and to a much greater extent genetic factors, there is probably not enough evidence to say there is a direct causal link, but potentially enough evidence to say that a poor diet increases risk of disease," said Drake.

"It's premature to say whether obesity may be on the causal pathway between soda and pancreatic cancer," Mueller dissented. "However, in my mind, despite the theoretical shortcomings for causality, there is a strong enough case to be made that sugar-sweetened beverages offer no redeeming nutritional qualities and, as such, there is a policy case to be made that their consumption, in excess, should be limited."

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