About three-fourths of the deaths due to sugary drinks were in developing countries, according to the study. Latin America, in particular, had among the highest death rates, with Mexico topping the list at 405 deaths per million adults, or about 24,000 total deaths. The United States ranked fourth, with 125 deaths per million adults.
Researchers collected data on deaths and disabilities from 2010 and calculated the direct effect that sugar-sweetened beverages had on public health based on dietary surveys reaching more than 600,000 people. The beverages in the study included sugar-sweetened sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sweetened iced teas and homemade sugary drinks such as frescas.
The American Beverage Association dismissed the study when it was first presented to the American Heart Association as an abstract in 2013, taking issue that it had been presented without being published or peer-reviewed.
"This study does not show that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes chronic diseases and the authors themselves acknowledge that they are at best estimating effects of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption," the ABA said in a statement released Tuesday. "America’s beverage companies are doing their part to offer consumers the fact-based information and the beverage options they need to make the right choices for themselves and their families."
Now that the study has been peer-reviewed, its authors say they remain confident about the results.
"If the sugar industry's argument is that there's no correlation, that's not correct," said Dariush Mozaffarian, an author of the study and dean of Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are the main source of added sugars in the American diet, according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. In 2015, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee also recommended that people replace soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages with milk and 100 percent fruit juice.
In the United States, soda consumption has been on the decline for the past decade, and in Mexico, a year-old sugar tax has been credited for a slump in consumption.
"There's definitely been progress, but there's still a huge amount of soda consumption in the U.S. and globally," Mozaffarian said.