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The world is guzzling more and more sugary beverages, a new study says

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The world is guzzling more sugary beverages. NPR's Ari Daniel has word of a new study that ranks countries by their intakes.

ARI DANIEL, BYLINE: Growing up in Mexico, Laura Lara-Castor went to her fair share of social gatherings. Sweet beverages abounded.

LAURA LARA-CASTOR: In my family or in reunions, people would actually drink a lot of these sodas. So I could see, like, firsthand how it could be contributing to these diseases.

DANIEL: Diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

LARA-CASTOR: Which to date are the leading causes of death and years lost of disability in many countries.

DANIEL: Castor is now a nutrition PhD candidate at Tufts University. And she and her colleagues set out to see how global consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks has changed over the last few decades, drinks like sodas, energy drinks, juices and aguas frescas. Castor found that globally we were slurping up 16% more of these libations in 2018 than we were in 1990. But there were regional differences.

LARA-CASTOR: The largest increases, like, over time were in the sub-Saharan Africa.

DANIEL: Castor has a theory.

LARA-CASTOR: They are a target for certain food industries, such as soda.

DANIEL: She thinks that's because there's more money moving around in some of these countries. Their economies are expanding, and the middle class is growing.

LARA-CASTOR: So there's been more marketing. Also, in some countries, the Western diet is, like, still seen as status.

DANIEL: Meanwhile, in 2018, Latin America was the region that consumed the most sugar-sweetened drinks, with Castor's home country of Mexico topping the list. On the flip side, Brazil saw the largest decrease in consumption over that same 28-year span, which, says Castor, could be due to more awareness that sugary drinks can be bad for your health. These findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

IKEOLA ADEOYE: The paper, it gives us a real picture of what's happening in terms of sugar consumption.

DANIEL: Dr. Ikeola Adeoye is an epidemiologist at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. She says, in her country, she sees sugar drinks everywhere.

ADEOYE: It's not so expensive, it's not seen as harmful to health, so it's widely drunk in Nigeria.

DANIEL: Beyond educating people, Adeoye argues that policy interventions are key, like warning labels or soda taxes. These approaches have been successful in higher-income countries, which in general have seen the largest decreases in drinking sweet beverages.

Ari Daniel, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHAT DIZZY DEAN'S "GELATO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Daniel is a reporter for NPR's Science desk where he covers global health and development.