Fruit juice and fizzy drinks significantly raise the risk of cancer, a major study shows today.
As little as 100ml of pure juice a day – a small glass, or a third of a can – increased the odds of the disease by 12 per cent.
And the same quantity of sweetened soft drink, such as cordial or fizzy pop, raised the risk of developing cancer by 19 per cent.
Experts warned consumers were being tricked into thinking that natural fruit juice was healthy even though it is packed with sugar.
They said it did not matter whether the juice was freshly squeezed or sold in a bottle. The risk also rose with each glass consumed. However the chance of developing cancer is still very low: for every 1,000 people who consume sugary drinks, 26 would get the disease over five years. That compares with 22 per 1,000 for those who shun the products.
Doctors said the study, which tracked more than 100,000 people, strengthened the case for robust action to cut consumption of sugary
drinks. However Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson last week said he might reverse Theresa May’s sugar levy on soft drinks, belittling such measures as ‘sin stealth taxes’.
Health officials are increasingly concerned about sugar consumption, particularly among children.
Intake is nearly three times the recommended limits for people of all ages, according to figures from Public Health England. And soft drinks are the biggest source of sugar for children and teenagers – making for the worst rates in Europe.
The researchers, from the Sorbonne study centre in Paris and the French public health agency, said strong policies to cut intake of sweet drinks could even cut cancer rates.
Writing last night in the British Medical Journal, they said: ‘These data support the relevance of existing nutritional recommendations to limit sugary drink consumption, including 100 per cent fruit juice, as well as policy actions, such as taxation and marketing restrictions targeting sugary drinks, which might potentially contribute to the reduction of cancer incidence.’
The team tracked 101,257 people in France who were aged 42 on average at the start of the five-year study. The results showed that artificially-sweetened drinks, such as diet cola, resulted in no increased cancer risk.
‘The population continues to be conned into thinking that “natural” automatically equates to “healthier” which is simply not the case,’ said Professor Nikolai Petrovsky of Flinders University in Australia.
‘High-sugar natural fruit drinks, which are flourishing worldwide and being marketed as a healthier option by juice and smoothie companies, can be just as bad if not worse than the carbonated drinks they are attempting to replace, as in many cases they can have an even higher total sugar content.’
Obesity is a known cause of 13 different types of cancer but the new study found even slim people were at increased risk if they drank sugary drinks or fruit juice.
The team said being overweight ‘might not be the only driver of the association between sugary drinks and the risk of cancer’.
They pointed to other research which suggested that sugary drinks promoted body fat around the abdomen, even if a person is of a healthy weight, which in turn promotes the growth of tumours.
Dr Graham Wheeler, senior statistician at Cancer Research UK, warned that the study assumed a link with cancer and ‘this still needs further research’.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: ‘Regularly consuming drinks high in sugar can contribute to tooth decay and weight gain.
‘Being overweight can cause serious ill health – including some cancers.’ But Gavin Partington, director-general of the British Soft Drinks Association trade group, said the study ‘does not provide evidence of cause, as the authors readily admit’.
‘Soft drinks are safe to consume as part of a balanced diet,’ he added. ‘The soft drinks industry recognises it has a role to play in helping to tackle obesity which is why we have led the way in calorie and sugar reduction.’
He said overall sugar intake from soft drinks had fallen 29 per cent between May 2015 and May 2019.