One of our Cancer Prevention Recommendations is to limit consumption of sugar sweetened drinks, and drink mostly and unsweetened drinks.

There is convincing evidence that consumption of sugar sweetened drinks is a cause of weight gain, overweight and obesity in both children and adults, especially when consumed frequently or in large portions. Sugar sweetened drinks do this by promoting excess energy intake relative to energy expenditure.

Consumption of sugary drinks is increasing in many countries worldwide and is contributing to the global increase in obesity, which increases the risk of many cancers

There is strong evidence that greater body fatness is a cause of many cancers: mouth, pharynx and larynx, oesophagus (adenocarcinoma), stomach (cardia), pancreas, gallbladder, liver, colorectum, breast (postmenopausal), ovary, endometrium, prostate (advanced) and kidney.

Dietary goal

  • Do not consume sugar sweetened drinks

What about tea, coffee and fruit juice?

To maintain adequate hydration, it is best to drink water or unsweetened drinks, such as tea or coffee without added sugar. There is evidence that coffee probably protects against liver and endometrial cancers.

Fruit juices should not be consumed in large quantities, as even with no added sugar they are likely to promote weight gain in a similar way to sugar sweetened drinks.

There is no strong evidence in humans to suggest that artificially sweetened drinks with minimal energy content, such as diet sodas, are a cause of cancer. The evidence that artificially sweetened drinks help prevent weight gain, overweight and obesity is not consistent. The available evidence is insufficient to make a recommendation regarding artificially sweetened drinks.

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Dr Kate Allen, World Cancer Research Fund International“One of the major problems with sugar sweetened drinks is that they provide energy but do not fill you up. This can promote overconsumption of energy and thus weight gain. This effect is compounded when there are low levels of physical activity.”
– Professor Martin Wiseman, World Cancer Research Fund International’s Medical and Scientific Adviser

Public health and policy implications

The consumption of sugar sweetened drinks has rapidly increased in many parts of the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries, contributing to rising rates of overweight and obesity. A whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach is necessary to create environments for people and communities that are conducive to limiting consumption of sugar sweetened drinks.

A comprehensive package of policies is needed to limit the availability, affordability and acceptability of sugar sweetened drinks, including marketing restrictions and taxes on sugar sweetened drinks, and securing access to clean water (this is of particular relevance to school settings). Policies are needed that influence the food environment, the food system and behaviour change communication across the life course. These policies can also help contribute to a sustainable ecological environment. Policymakers are encouraged to frame specific goals and actions according to their national context. Find out more on policy action for cancer prevention.

Our Recommendations work together as an overall way of living healthily to prevent cancer. Download the full chapter PDF below