Politicians recently tried – and failed – to get smoking banned in London’s parks and open spaces. But recent research has suggested that a ban on fizzy soft drinks would do almost as much for public health.
Scientists from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) have revealed that fizzy drinks may accelerate biological ageing just as much as smoking.
The team were looking at things called telomeres. These are protective caps on the end of chromosomes that allow us to measure biological ageing.
Telomeres shorten with age, and short telomeres are associated with chronic problems of ageing such as heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.
The researchers found that people who regularly drank sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks had significantly shorter telomeres than those who did not.
This all suggests that fizzy drinks may actually speed up the rate at which cells age – although the scientists could not confirm that it was definitely the drinks that were causing the telomeres to shorten.
What did the experiments involve?
The findings come from studying thousands of DNA samples.
The scientists measured telomeres in the white blood cells of 5,309 participants aged 20 to 65 with no history of diabetes or heart disease.
The apparent link between fizzy drinks and biological ageing was seen throughout – regardless of age, race, income and education level.
Exactly what did they find?
Consumption of 20 fluid ounces of soda a day – equivalent to about two cans of cola – was associated with 4.6 years of additional biological ageing, based on telomere shortening.
More than a fifth of the participants fell into this category.
Professor Elissa Epel, a member of the UCSF team, said: ”This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness. Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset.”
So what’s this got to do with smoking?
The shortening of telomeres is a well-known effect of smoking. This is the first time a beverage has also been linked to increased biological ageing.
Dr Cindy Leung, also from the UCSF, said: “It is critical to understand both dietary factors that may shorten telomeres, as well as dietary factors that may lengthen telomeres.
“Here it appeared that the only beverage consumption that had a measurable negative association with telomere length was consumption of sugared soda.”
Professor Epel added: “Although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children, as well.”
Which raises the question: Could there be a soda ban coming to an office, restaurant or park near you?
The findings of this study were published in the American Journal of Public Health.