Having a sweet tooth could lead to an early death, study finds

Having a sweet tooth could lead to an early death, study finds

Having a sweet tooth and indulging in chocolate bars and fizzy drinks could lead to heart disease and death in middle age, study suggests

  • Oxford University scientists tracked 116,000 people’s eating habits for 15 years 
  • Chocolate and sugary drink lovers more likely to have heart disease in mid life
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the UK killing one in four men 

Having a sweet tooth could lead to heart disease and an early death, a study has suggested.

University of Oxford scientists tracked 116,000 people’s eating habits for up to 15 years and checked whether they had been admitted to hospital or died. 

They found people who regularly indulged in chocolate bars and sugary drinks were more likely to put on weight and suffer from heart disease in mid life than people who abstained from them.

The study highlighted two diets increased someone’s risk of developing from heart disease. The first was a high saturated fat diet, involving chocolates, butter and processed meat instead of fresh fruit, vegetables and fibre.

And the second involved foods with processed sugars including fizzy drinks, fruit juices and table sugar while avoiding high fat cheese and butter.

They found those who ate the first diet were seven per cent more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease in mid life, while for the other group they were four per cent more likely to face this. 

People who eat more chocolate, sweets, fatty foods and white bread tended to be male, under the age of 60, smokers and from poorer backgrounds, the study found. 

Saturated fat is known to clog up arteries, leading to heart disease. And research has suggested that processed sugars increase blood pressure and can stimulate the liver to introduce harmful fats to the bloodstream as well. 

Some 7.6million people in Britain suffer heart disease, with men accounting for 4milllion and women 3.6million. In the US, the figure stands at 30.3million.

It is the leading cause of death in the UK, killing one in four men and one in five women.  

Having a sweet tooth could lead to heart disease and an early death, a University of Oxford study has shown

Scientists asked participants in England, Scotland and Wales aged 37 to 73 to fill in online questionnaires on their daily diets up to five times between 2006 and 2010.

They then compared this to the numbers that had been hospitalised or died from 2017 to 2020.

The world’s biggest killer is ischaemic heart disease, responsible for 16 per cent of the world’s total deaths.

Since 2000, the largest increase in deaths has been for this disease, rising by more than 2 million to 8.9 million deaths in 2019. 

Stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are the 2nd and 3rd leading causes of death, responsible for approximately 11 per cent and 6 per cent of total deaths respectively. 

Source: WHO

Dr Carmen Piernas of the the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the university, who led the study, said people need to be aware of the dangers of eating sugar.

She said: ‘Cardiovascular disease is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK and poor diet is a major contributor to this. 

‘The most common dietary guidelines are based on the nutrients found in foods rather than foods themselves and this can be confusing for the public. 

‘Our findings help identify specific foods and beverages that are commonly eaten in Britain and that may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.’ 

The analysis published in BMC Medicine found those who ate more chocolate, confectionary, butter and white bread were likely to be male, younger and from a poor background.

They also tended to be smokers, less physically active, living with obesity or have high blood pressure.

Participants consuming fizzy drinks, fruit juice and preserves had an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and mortality – even though they tended to be physically active.

They were also less likely to be smokers or living with obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. 

Women, under 60s or those who were obese in particular had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, if they consumed a diet high in these foods.

Participants were recruited to the UK Biobank project between 2006 and 2010. They reported meals and snacks during the previous 24 hours on two to five occasions.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels. CVD events include heart disease and stroke. All heart diseases are cardiovascular diseases, but not all cardiovascular diseases are heart disease

The researchers then identified the nutrients and foods eaten. Incidence of cardiovascular disease and mortality was calculated using hospital admission and death registry records until 2017 and 2020, respectively.

Dr Piernas said: ‘Our research suggests eating less chocolate, confectionery, butter, low-fibre bread, sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juice, table sugar and preserves could be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease or death during middle-age.

‘This is consistent with previous research which has suggested that eating foods that contain less sugar and fewer calories may be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.


1. Cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) assessments of heart function used in clinical practice such as volume of the ventricles and measures of the pumping function of the ventricles

2. Novel CMR radiomics used in research to extract detailed information from heart images such as shape and texture (which indicates health of the heart muscle)

3. Elasticity of the blood vessels (stretchy arteries are healthier)

‘The findings of this study could be used to create food-based dietary advice that could help people eat more healthily and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.’

Future research could investigate the potential reasons for the associations between the two diets and cardiovascular disease and mortality, she said.

Experts said the study showed people 

Professor Naveed Sattar, a cardiovascular and medical scientist at the University of Glasgow, said 

He said: ‘The findings do not only relate to sugar but also fat. Many types of confectionary and in particular chocolates are also loaded with saturated fat

‘Sugar per se is not bad — we need it to feed the brain, immune cells and muscles, and we cannot live without it. 

‘This study’s findings more or less map to many other relevant studies and collectively they suggest many “low hanging fruits” when it comes to dietary improvements for health gain. 

‘Many of these I have done myself — switching to high fibre bread and cereals and less sweetened cereals, eating less chocolate and replace it by eating more fruit and vegetables, and rarely if ever now drinking fruit juice but switching to low calorie drinks and water. 

‘Many such changes also help lessen calorie intake and modest weight benefits also often accrue. There are also benefits for gut health, and potentially immune function.

‘What we have to do as a nation is to encourage many who eat too much chocolate or confectionary or sweetened beverages etc, is to make small, sustainable changes in diet or drink habits, which can sometimes take a little time but encourage people to try changes over a period of time to retrain palates. 

‘Nearly all can successfully do so with a little perseverance. At the same time, we must make it easier and cheaper to buy healthier foods.’

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