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Sure that pop was a good idea? Sugary drinks linked to higher stroke risk in women

More bad news for those who like to indulge in sugary soft drinks. A new study has linked regularly consumption of these drinks to an increased risk of stroke in women.

Sugary pop, which can contain a few hundred calories in a single serving, is already linked to the rising incidence of obesity in countries such as Canada and the United States. The news that soft drinks may also lead to an increased stroke risk will likely help fuel public health campaigns to educate consumers about the potential risks of sugary beverages.

In the study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers in Japan followed nearly 40,000 men and women from 1990 to 2008. Study participants monitored their consumption of pop through food questionnaires.

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At the end of the study period, the researchers found that women who had the highest soft drink intake, consuming those types of beverages nearly every day, had a higher risk of stroke. They didn't observe the trend among men.

But, as with most studies, it's impossible to conclude that soft drink consumption caused these women to suffer strokes. It could be that women who were frequent consumers of soft drinks also engaged in other behaviours that put them at an increased risk for stroke. Frequent pop drinkers may be less physically active or weigh more, on average, than those who don't drink pop, for instance.

On a broader level, the link between obesity and consumption of sugary beverages (including juice, which can contain a significant number of calories) is highly contentious. Soft drinks play the role of nutritional bogeymen for many nutrition and public health experts who link them to childhood obesity, diabetes and other negative outcomes. Many jurisdictions are considering putting an added tax on soft drinks, and New York made worldwide headlines earlier this year when Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a ban on soft drinks larger than 16 ounces (about 473 millimetres).

But targeting one item – sugary beverages – oversimplifies what is a complex issue, according to others. One of Canada's most prominent obesity experts, Arya Sharma, professor of medicine and chair of obesity research and management at the University of Alberta, wrote in a blog post earlier this year that sugary beverages are an easy target, but that focusing only on them is bad policy that won't address the root causes of obesity and related health issues.

Citing a Canadian study that failed to find any link between consumption of sugary beverages and obesity, Sharma wrote: "No doubt soft drinks make easier policy targets than getting more sleep, spending more time at home raising your kids, or considering gut bugs, environmental toxins or epigenetics. Just too bad that the data [do] not exactly support the policy."

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