The claim 'drinking a can of soda is just as bad for you as smoking a cigarette' can be denied on two factors mentioned below.
- A study researching dietary patterns, food groups, and telomere length in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) in 2008 found no connection between sugar-sweetened soda and telomere length (i.e. shorter telomeres). This can mean that decrease of telomere length which is a useful biomarker of lifetime exposure to environmental and biological stressors and a major factor of study in the claim is not related to soda consumption.
Of all the food groups studied, only processed meat intake was significantly associated with telomere length after multivariable adjustment, including adjustment for other food groups. Neither the dietary pattern for fats and processed meat nor the dietary pattern for whole grains and fruit was significantly associated with telomere length after adjustment for demographic and lifestyle factors. Additional adjustment for BMI did not change these results. Adjustment for gross family income or more refined categories of educational status [proxies for socioeconomic status (SES)] also did not change these results.
Conclusions: Processed meat intake showed an expected inverse association with telomere length, but other diet features did not show their expected associations.
- Smoking-attributable mortality is high when compared to obesity associated deaths in a large population which is seen by the following example in USA. "Approximately one-half of the population aged 2 and older consumes sugar drinks on any given day. Studies in children and adults have found that reducing sugary drink consumption can lead to better weight control" among those who are initially overweight. "An estimated 42.1 million adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes and an estimated 3,000 kids each day under the age of 18 try their first cigarette and another 700 become regular, daily smokers".
These numbers reflect that tobacco use is far worse than consumption of soda in terms of deaths i.e. the population in the U.S. consumes more sugary beverages than smoke cigarettes, yet 440,000 people die every year from tobacco use compared with just 112,000 from obesity.
Per Daniel Engber of Slate, "drinking a soda a day is not nearly as bad as smoking a pack a day. The paper doesn’t show that the long-term health effects of soda and tobacco are comparable and tobacco is far, far worse than soda. We know (or think we know) that soft drinks are a deadly vice and that they send a toxic dose of sugar straight into our veins. The authors push the story further, saying that soda doesn’t only make us sick, it “ages our cells.” And if that’s what soda does, with all its lethal sugar, then “cellular aging” must be something real—a valid measure of our inner rot".
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, took five years studying a sample of 5309 US adults aged 20 to 65 years, with no history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease by a national health survey conducted between 1999 and 2002 comparing extrapolated habits from interviews to their measurements of telomeres to reach the conclusion that soda drinkers had shorter telomeres than non-soda drinkers. A similar study correlating shortened telomeres to processed meat, published in 2008, found no connection whatsoever between carbonated-soda intake and cellular aging.
The conclusions of Blackburn, Epel, Lin, Cindy Leung and other collaborators were "regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence metabolic disease development through accelerated cell aging". However, as the researchers noted, "association does not demonstrate causation" as they "only compared telomere length and sugar-sweetened soda consumption for each participant at a single time point."
Research into cellular aging is based on the fact that a cell’s chromosomes are capped at either ends with telomeres. "Telomeres are complex structures made up of nucleic acid and protein, located at the ends of chromosomes where they provide a protective cap and maintain the integrity of the genome. Telomeric DNA is gradually lost each time a cell divides, until the length of any given telomere reaches a critical level that triggers cell senescence and death. Average telomere length measured in peripheral blood cells decreases as humans age. Certain enzymes work in the opposite direction that they help rebuild the telomeres and slow that aging down and hence research states telomere length erosion may be a potentially useful biomarker of lifetime exposure to environmental and biological stressors."
A 2010 review of 10 studies of telomere length and early death showed that five studies found no relationship between shortened telomeres and increased risk of mortality. "Different groups also tried and failed to link the length of telomeres with patients’ blood pressure, lung function, and grip strength (an indicator of overall health). More research led to more confusion as some studies did find that shorter telomeres predicted cognitive impairment—cellular aging might predispose to dementia, for example but other analyses found the opposite."
According to a summary of the field from 2013, it is certain that telomeres get shorter with age and the only proven correlations across research are with age, gender, and race. A study published in 2014 found no evidence of a relationship between telomere length and life stressors.