African American women who consume sugar-sweetened fruit drinks may be increasing their risk for diabetes more than those who choose sweetened soft drinks, a recent study suggests.

Researchers from the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University used data from the Black Women’s Health Study to focus on 2,713 women who developed diabetes between 1995 and 2005. They found that the higher the intake of fruit drinks, the higher the incidence of disease. When women who consumed two or more sweetened beverages a day were compared with those who consumed fewer than one per month, the incidence ratios were 1.31 for fruit drinks and 1.24 for two or more soft drinks. Fruit drinks included powdered fruit-flavored beverages, fortified fruit drinks, and juices other than orange or grapefruit (Arch Intern Med. 2008;168:1487-1492).

The incidence of diabetes is twice as high among black women as white in the United States. “Much of the excess is due to their high levels of overweight and obesity,” the authors write.

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As fruit drinks tend to be higher in calories than sweetened soft drinks, “reducing consumption or switching to diet sodas is a concrete step women may find easier to achieve than other approaches to weight loss,” they note.
Ironically, the study points out, fruit drinks are marketed as a smart beverage choice, and the research implies women believe this. “To some extent, soft-drink consumption was correlated with unhealthy behaviors and fruit drink consumption with healthy behaviors.” For example, fruit-drink use was associated with exercise, fiber intake, and low-glycemic diets.

“The public should be made aware that these fruit drinks are not a healthy alternative to soft drinks,” states lead author Julie R. Palmer, ScD, professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health.