HealthDay News — Lung disease can now be added to the list of poor health outcomes, after obesity and heart disease, associated with sugar-sweetened beverages, data from a nationally representative Australian study indicate.

Participants who drank at least half a liter of soda per day were more than twice as likely to develop asthma or COPD than those who consumed no soft drinks at all (odds ratio=2.33; 95% C: 1.51-3.60), Zumin Shi, MD, PhD, from the University of Adelaide, and colleague reported in Respirology.

As the burden of asthma and COPD increase in Western nations, so too have efforts to identify novel risk factors that may contribute to the disorders. As part of these efforts, Shi and colleagues analyzed data from the South Australian Monitoring and Surveillance System, which included information from 16,907 adults with a mean age 46.7 years. Asthma prevalence was 12.5%, and incidence of COPD was 4.4% based on self-reported doctor diagnoses.

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Although 72% of participants reported that they did not drink any soda at all, 11.4% reported daily soft drink consumption totaling more than half a liter. This included name-brand sodas, lemonade, flavored mineral water and sports drinks.

Incidence of asthma (14.7% vs. 11.9%) and COPD (6% vs. 4.2%) among these high consumption participants was significantly higher compared with incidence among those who drank no soft drinks at all, the researchers found.

After adjusting for sociodemographic and lifestyle factors, including fruit and vegetable intake, drinking half a liter of soda per day or more was associated with a 1.26 OR for asthma  (95% CI: 1.01-1.58), and a 1.79 OR for COPD (95% CI: 95% CI 1.32 to 2.43) compared with no consumption.

Participants who drank soda and smoked were at an even higher risk for lung disease, the researchers observed. Consuming more than half a liter a day and being a current smoker carried a 6.6-fold greater risk of COPD, and a 1.5-fold higher risk of asthma than not smoking and drinking soda, they reported.

“The combined effect of soft drink consumption and smoking on asthma/COPD emphasizes the importance of lifestyle factor clustering in the etiology of asthma/COPD,” they wrote. “Promoting a healthy lifestyle should be encouraged as one means of preventing asthma/COPD.”

Despite these findings, the cross-sectional study was unable to prove causality, according to the researchers. Additional study limitations included the self-reported nature of the data.

Shi Z et al. Respirol. 2012;17:363-369.