Sugary drinks linked to early-onset colorectal cancer in women

Trends among consumers over the last several years have pointed toward an eschewing of sugar in favor of natural sweeteners. A recent study published in the journal Gut will likely add even more fuel to that trend.

Alex Smolokoff, Editorial coordinator

July 21, 2021

3 Min Read
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According to the study, drinking high-sugar soft drinks may increase the likelihood of developing early-onset colorectal cancer in women, the third-most common form of cancer in both men and women in the U.S. (2021[323450]: Online ahead of print).

The researchers used data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, which consisted of nearly 96,000 women who reported the beverages they consumed via a food and drink questionnaire once every four years. Based on that data, the researchers determined women who drank two or more sugary drinks per day had more than double the risk of developing early-onset (before age 50) colorectal cancer compared to women who reported drinking less than one sugary beverage per week. Specifically, the authors noted that each 8-oz. serving of a sugary drink per day increased the likelihood of early-onset colorectal cancer by 16%; for girls ages 13-18, the risk increased by 32% per sugary drink serving.

For the purpose of the study, a high-sugar drink included soda, juice, punches and iced teas sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

The authors explained that sugary beverages may also lead to overconsumption of calories, as these high-calorie beverages do not satiate like food does. That overconsumption can then lead to other health issues, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, which also increase cancer risks.

“We hope many people follow this recommendation and get their screening tests,” said Jinhee Hur, department of nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, “which could certainly contribute to the effective prevention, early detection and treatment of the disease.”

Food & Beverage Insider insights

Proprietary FMCG Gurus research conducted in 2021 found 76% of consumers plan to eat and drink more healthily over the next 12 months. Of these consumers, 60% said they plan to reduce their sugar intake. Other FMCG Gurus data indicated nearly two-thirds of consumers are paying closer attention to nutrition labels now than they did a year ago, with more than 60% of those who do citing COVID-19 as the main reason why.

As COVID-19 brought personal health top of mind, consumers appear to be more prepared than ever to give up, or severely limit, sugar intake.

Luckily for formulators and brands, plenty of alternative sweeteners are perceived by consumers to be better for them. Stevia, monk fruit, allulose and erythritol can provide sweetness without a negative connotation in the ingredient deck. Even other forms of sugar, such as honey and agave, have healthier perceptions than standard sugar or corn syrup. According to a 2018 Mintel report, for example, honey is considered the healthiest natural sweetener, with a health score of 64.4% (out of 100) from consumers; for comparison, raw cane sugar scored 33%, and HFCS 6.1%, below even many artificial sweeteners.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force consumers to re-examine their own personal health—including dietary choices—utilization of natural sweeteners with better health halos will be key in bringing in new customers and keeping them coming back.

About the Author(s)

Alex Smolokoff

Editorial coordinator, Informa

After a career in sportswriting, Alex Smolokoff was on the editorial team at Informa Markets from December 2018 through spring of 2022, working on Food & Beverage Insider. In his free time, he enjoys watching his hometown Boston sports teams.   

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