Sugary drinks tied to higher colorectal cancer rates among young adults, research finds

People born around 1990 have double the risk for colon cancer and four times the risk for rectal cancer compared to those born around 1950, and for the first time, research has linked early-onset colorectal cancer to an increase in consumption of sugary drinks, researchers told The New York Times.

Between 1997 and 2001, the percentage of calories consumed in sugary drinks jumped from 5.1 percent of all calories to 12.3 percent among those aged 19-39. Among children 18 and under, those figures are 4.8 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively, the Times reports. 

Researchers conducted a long-term study involving 94,464 female nurses from 1991 to 2015. Participants were enrolled between 1991 and 2015. Additionally, researchers examined a subset of 41,272 nurses who reported their sugary drink consumption at ages 13 to 18. 

Participants' intakes of soft drinks, sports drinks and sweetened teas, as well as fruit-juice were analyzed. 

After an average 24 years of follow-up, 109 cases of colorectal cancer among the nurses were reported, according to findings published in Gut and cited by the Times. Those who drank two or more sugar-sweetened drinks a week had more than twice the risk for the disease compared to women who drank less than a single eight-ounce serving of sugary drinks per week on average. 

For every extra serving of such drinks, the risk for colon cancer rose 16 percent, the findings showed. Researchers did not observe a link between early-onset colorectal cancer and intakes of fruit juice or drinks that were artificially sweetened. 

"This is the first time sugar-sweetened beverages have been linked to early-onset colorectal cancer," said Dr. Yin Cao, senior study author and professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "This study still needs to be replicated. But researchers and clinicians should be aware of this largely ignored risk factor for cancer at younger ages. This is an opportunity to revisit policies about how sugar-sweetened beverages are marketed, and how we can help reduce consumption," Dr. Cao told the Times.

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