Sugary drinks are a health problem worldwide because they're associated with a range of debilitating illnesses — from tooth decay and tooth loss to diabetes, obesity, heart problems, kidney and fatty liver diseases — as well as gout, a form of arthritis.

On top of it, most sugar-laden sodas offer no nutritional value and that's another reason so many countries discourage their citizens from drinking them, with some governments taxing sugar-sweetened drinks to try to put the brakes on consumption and the many health problems connected to it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be working, according to a new study that analyzed nearly three decades of sugary drink consumption.

If you habitually reach for sugary drinks and want to stop, you might begin by reducing your intake by one can a day, or try substituting 7.5 oz cans for 12 oz cans.

Researchers, from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, looked at how adults in 185 countries around the world consumed sugar-sweetened beverages between the years 1990 to 2018.

Soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit juices, punch, lemonade and aguas frescas (beverages made from one or more fruits blended with sugar and water) that contained at least 50 calories per 8-ounce serving were all included in the study.

Here's some of what the researchers learned:

  • Globally, intakes were higher among males than females; they were also higher in younger versus older people.
  • Education was less influential regarding consumption of sugary drinks; some of the highest sugary drink intakes in the world were among urban, highly educated adults, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa (12.4 servings per week).
  • Intake varied widely by world region, ranging from 0.7 servings per week in south Asia to 7.8 servings per week in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • The countries with the highest consumption of sugary drink servings per week included Mexico (8.9), Ethiopia (7.1), the United States (4.9) and Nigeria (4.9) compared to India, China and Bangladesh (0.2 each).

The researchers suggest these trends could be influenced by: 1) the effectiveness of marketing tactics from the soda and food industry; 2) the association of Western diets (including sugary drinks) with high status; 3) and limited access to water, though the design of the current study did not allow for the precise identification the reasons for these trends.

“Soda can reach the farthest places, and in countries where clean water is less accessible, these beverages might be the only thing available to drink at all times,” the first author of the study, Laura Lara-Castor, a PhD candidate in the Nutrition Epidemiology and Science program at the Friedman School, pointed out in a press release.

“These results suggest that more work is needed, especially around successful interventions such as marketing regulations, food labeling and soda taxes.” Lara-Castor added.

No matter where you live, if you habitually reach for sugary drinks and want to stop, here are some ways you can reduce your craving:

  • Begin by keeping track of how many sugary drinks you have per week to gain awareness.
  • Don't go cold turkey. Reduce your intake by one can a day, then two… until you can go a whole day without drinking any.
  • Substitute smaller, 7.5 oz cans for 12 oz cans.
  • Drink plenty of water. It can be still or sparkling. You can add flavor with cucumber slices or fresh fruit.

The study is published in Nature Communications.