Drinking one to two sugary beverages a day increased a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes by 26% and their risk for metabolic syndrome by 20% compared with people who consumed just one sugary drink per month, data from a study published online today in Diabetes Care indicated.

In fact, drinking just one 12-ounce serving of soda per day increased a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes by about 15%.

“People should limit how much sugar-sweetened beverages they drink and replace them with healthy alternatives, such as water, to reduce risk of diabetes as well as obesity, gout, tooth decay and cardiovascular disease,” study researcher Vasanti Malik, ScD, said in a press release.

Malik, a fellow in the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), explained that although many earlier studies have found a positive association between sugary beverages and diabetes risk, this metaanalysis provides a better overall picture of the “magnitude of risk and consistency of evidence.”

The analysis pooled data from 11 studies that involved more than 300,000 participants with 15,043 cases of type 2 diabetes and 19,431 participants with 5,803 cases of metabolic syndrome.

“The association that we observed between soda consumption and risk of diabetes is likely a cause-and-effect relationship because other studies have documented that sugary beverages cause weight gain, and weight gain is closely linked to the development of type 2 diabetes,” added Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH.

Malik and Hu said that while a number of other factors may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is one easy way that patients can help reduce their risk for these diseases.