The rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes just keep going up. While no one doubts the two are related, there has been resistance to recognizing at least one possible source of the problem — our consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. It is hard for many to believe that a can of soda could be the source of a major health problem.

If you think your one-a-day soda habit is no big deal, however, you may want to think again. British researchers have found that drinking just one 12-oz serving of a sugar-sweetened soft drink significantly increases a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes. And the risk goes up the more 12-oz servings you drink.

The results are in line with American studies that have found about a 25% increase in diabetes with each additional 12-oz sugar-sweetened drink.

In the United States, there has been a lot of concern over studies showing a connection between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and diabetes. The research is what prompted New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to attempt a ban on sugary sodas in serving sizes greater than 32 ounces.

The ban was overturned by a New York State judge and is now on appeal. Resistance from the beverage industry was swift and well-funded.

In Britain, Europe, and the U.S., The Findings Are All the Same

The new study finds that the sugary soda-diabetes connection in Britain and Europe is similar to that seen in Americans. Researchers at Imperial College London used data from people in eight countries, focusing on over 12,000 people with type 2 diabetes, and 16,000 without it. They looked at the kinds of drinks the participants drank — sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened soft drinks, as well as nectar and fruit juices — and correlated these drinks with the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The results were eye-opening: for every 12-ounce sugar-sweetened drink a person drank, his or her risk of type 2 diabetes rose by 22%. When Body Mass Index (BMI) was considered, the risk fell to 18%, which is still high; and, as the researchers point out, studies in the U.S. do not typically adjust for BMI, so the 22% finding is the one that’s more comparable to U.S. studies.

The results are in line with American studies that have found about a 25% increase in diabetes with each additional 12-oz sugar-sweetened drink. The authors conclude that, "Given the increase in sweet beverage consumption in Europe, clear messages on its deleterious effect on health should be given to the population."

The Problem is Sugar
Drinks sweetened artificially were linked to a 52% rise in diabetes risk, but this totally disappeared after BMI was taken into account, suggesting that weight has more do with diabetes risk in this case than artificially-sweetened drinks.

The fact that the effect of sugar-sweetened drinks didn’t change much after BMI was taken into account suggests that it is indeed the sugar itself that’s the culprit, rather than weight, perhaps working by affecting insulin function. Greater consumption of fruit juices or nectars was not associated with an increase in diabetes.

High fructose corn syrup, used to sweeten many drinks, appears to affect brain areas and hormones that control hunger, and our tendency to overeat.

Of course, just how to make the public aware of these risks is somewhat unclear. Some states have vehemently resisted the idea of laws limiting how much soda one can buy at once. The task for health officials will be to come up with a way to encourage people to be healthy without alienating them.

In the meantime, there's nothing stopping citizens on both sides of the pond from cutting back on sugar-sweetened drinks on their own.

The study is published in the journal, Diabetologia.