Even though it is chosen for fewer calories, diet soda may cause serious health problems.
A 10-year epidemiological study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine has found a connection between diet sodas and cardiovascular disease.
Sodas have been linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome, but this study found daily consumption of diet soda to be associated with a risk of stroke, heart attack and death.
In an interview with The New York Times, Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami and the lead author of the study, said the correlation found may be caused by underlying factors.
“The message for diet soft drink drinkers is not to be alarmed,” Gardener said. “What we’ve found is an association, and it might be due to chance or other unmeasured variables.”
Merrill Christensen, a professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science at BYU, said the study may not be viable because the connection was not strong enough to prove it was statistically significant.
“The only significant difference in risk is found when comparing those who drink one or more a day versus those who drink one or less a month,” Christensen said. “What you want to see in order for a study to be significant is an equal increase in increments. If the soda intake increases from one a week to two a week, then risk of heart disease should increase as well.”
Christensen said he does recognize that not drinking sodas may decrease the chances of heart disease.
“If you are 70 years old and go from drinking more than one diet soda a day to drinking no diet soda, it may decrease the risk [of heart disease],” Christensen said. “It also depends on how healthy you are in the first place.”
Susan Fullmer, a BYU professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science, said the study does not provide sufficient evidence because it was an epidemiology study.
Fullmer explained that an epidemiology study is when people are followed over time and the data is self reported. The people running the study call the subjects on the phone and receive information. Fullmer said these kinds of studies decrease credibility because the data is self reported.
“It is not appropriate to take these kinds of studies and apply causation,” Fullmer said. “People are trying to find association to many things and sometimes it shows up and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Personally, Fullmer said she feels the main problem comes from the frequency of consumption.
“I don’t have a problem with pop or diet pop,” Fullmer said. “The problem is the frequency.”
Rebekah Wright, a sophomore from Eastchester, N.Y., studying psychology, drinks diet sodas but said if a study came out proving these drinks cause heart disease, she would alter her diet.
“If this study came out, I would definitely cut down how often I drink them or maybe try to cut them out of my diet completely,” Wright said.
Fullmer said if people want something to drink, water is the best choice.
“Personally as a dietitian, I would encourage people to drink more water,” Fullmer said. “I would discourage someone from drinking diet or regular sodas on a daily basis. I suspect people who are drinking soda on a daily basis aren’t doing it for the flavor, they are doing it for caffeine.”