People consuming just under 200ml on average of a sugar-sweetened drink or fruit juice each day had an 18 per cent increased risk of all types of cancer.
Among women, researchers found a 22 per cent increased risk of breast cancer. However, calling for further large-scale studies, they said their findings showed an association and could not prove that sugary drinks definitely caused cancer.
The new study, published in the British Medical Journal, analysed data from 101,257 people with an average age of 42 at the start of the study and were typically followed up for five years. Some 21 per cent of the group were men and 79 per cent were women.
Their intake of more than 3,000 different food and drink items was assessed at the start of the study and every six months, with each person completing at least two 24-hour dietary questionnaires.
The results showed on average people consumed 92.9ml per day of sugary drinks or 100 per cent fruit juice, which contains naturally-occurring sugar. For every extra 100ml per day consumed on top of this, a person’s cancer risk rose by 18 per cent for all cancers and, among women, by 22 per cent for breast cancer.
Those people who drank the most sugary drinks, at 185.8ml per day on average, who then consumed an extra 100ml per day, had a 30 per cent increased risk of all cancers. Among women with the highest intake, the risk of breast cancer increased by 37 per cent.
The researchers, from French Public Health Agency and the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team (EREN) in Bobigny, France, found the link between sugary drinks and cancer held true even when a person’s weight was taken into account. Obesity is a known cause of 13 different types of cancer, but the latest study found even slim people were at increased risk if they drank sugary drinks or fruit juice.
The team said “being overweight and weight gain might not be the only drivers of the association between sugary drinks and the risk of cancer”.
The study found no link between diet drinks containing sweetener and an increased risk of cancer. Even when the group of sugary drinks was split into fruit juices and other sugary drinks, the consumption of both types of drinks was associated with a higher risk of overall cancer.
The researchers concluded: “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.”
Gavin Partington, director-general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said the study “does not provide evidence of cause as the authors readily admit”.