Researchers link drinking diet soda to long-term risk factors for health

By Brittany Abeijon

Diet sodas may taste like regular sodas, but researchers have found fewer calories aren’t a healthier option.

New research from the Boston University School of Medicine found that adults who drink one or more diet sodas per day are 50 percent more likely to develop different health-hindering factors such as excess weight, increased blood pressure and cholesterol.

All of these symptoms can double a person’s risk for developing heart disease, stroke, or diabetes, according to the study.

Justine Karduck, nutritionist and director of the SportWell Center in the Illini Union, said that both diet and regular sodas contain caffeine, caramel flavoring and phosphoric acid, which have been associated with increased inflammation in the body and lower bone density in women.

“Excess intake of caffeine is associated with restlessness, anxiety, irritability, muscle tremors, sleeplessness, headaches, nausea, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems, and abnormal heart rhythms,” Karduck said.

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Drinking soda may cause people to drink less water and lead to further health problems involving other factors of consumption.

“Some people may choose (diet soda) and think they may be able to splurge on other high calorie items which can lead to weight gain,” Karduck said.

People who drink diet soda in moderation may use it as part of their diet to help manage their weight, but the direct relation to bulging waistbands and diet sodas is unclear.

“There are many other important factors which contribute to the rising rate of obesity in this country – mainly eating too much and moving too little,” Karduck said.

Karin Rosenblatt, associate professor of kinesiology and community health who has taught and researched in the field of epidemiology, analyzed the research done by Boston University.

“Although it makes sense that people who drink more sugared pop may be more prone to obesity and other health problems, it also makes sense that people who have these problems may be more prone to drink diet pop so that they do not become more overweight,” Rosenblatt said.

Many epidemiologists determine whether the relationship between an exposure and a disease is causal based on multiple studies done on the topic.

“The authors of the study do not appear to cite additional studies with the same findings as theirs with respect to diet soft drinks,” Rosenblatt said.

Renee Landa, senior in Nursing, said she always thought that diet soda was better than regular soda because it has less sugar and fewer calories.

“I don’t think this study will make me drink less pop,” Landa said. “This is only one study, and a lot of questions aren’t answered. If a person exercises and eats healthy, I don’t think drinking diet pop would make them more likely to have a heart attack or die younger.”

Landa said she thinks the study needs to look deeper into variables that are unaccounted for, such as the other food and drinks diet soda drinkers consume. She said someone who drinks a lot of soda, even if it is diet, may be less likely to work out and eat healthy foods.

“Does the study show if the pop drinkers are also smokers? Many smokers also develop high cholesterol, blood pressure and hypertension, and it may just be a coincidence that they also drink pop,” Landa said. “What is the activity level of the pop drinkers? If they don’t exercise and eat healthy, then yes, they will be overweight and not because of the pop.”