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Belly Fat Higher In Older Adults Who Drink Diet Soda Regularly

First Posted: Mar 17, 2015 01:15 AM EDT

Diet soda may not always be the healthier choice, according to recent findings published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers found that adults 65 and older who drank it had an increased risk of belly fat that contributed to a greater risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases.

Though many adults will try to reduce sugar intake by turning to nonnutritive or artificial sweeteners like aspartame or saccharin, previous findings throughout the past 30 years have shown that the consumption of these drinks have risen. Furthermore, some studies even suggest that drinking them can increase hunger pangs. 

"Our study seeks to fill the age gap by exploring the adverse health effects of diet soda intake in individuals 65 years of age and older," said lead author Sharon Fowler, MPH, from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, in a news release. "The burden of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, along with healthcare costs, is great in the ever-increasing senior population."

For the study, researchers at the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging (SALSA) enrolled 749 Mexican- and European-Americans who were aged 65 and older at the start of the study (1992-96). 

They examined diet soda intake, waist circumference, height, and measured weight at study onset, along with three follow-ups periods during 2000-01, 2001-03, and 2003-04, for a total of 9.4 follow-up years. At the first follow-up there were 474 (79.1%) surviving participants; there were 413 (73.4%) at the second follow-up and 375 (71.0%) at the third follow-up.

The study results showed that the increase in waist circumference among diet soda drinkers, per follow-up interval, was close to triple that among non-users: 2.11 cm versus 0.77 cm, respectively. Furthermore, after adjusting for multiple potential confounders, interval waist circumference increases were 0.77 cm for non-users, 1.76 cm for occasional users of 0.80 inches for non-users, 1.83 inches for occasional users, and 3.16 inches for daily users over the total 9.4-year SALSA follow-up period.

"The SALSA study shows that increasing diet soda intake was associated with escalating abdominal obesity, which may increase cardiometabolic risk in older adults," Fowler concluded.

Researchers added that older individuals who drink diet soda daily, particularly those at high cardiometabolic risk, should try to curb their consumption of artificially sweetened drinks.

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