Yesterday, I learned that daily consumption of diet soda may increase my risk of “stroke, heart attack, and vascular death.” When I first read that finding, I calmly set down my can of Diet Coke and Googled “vascular death.” As I noted to a colleague, “GHUGHGGHH.”
Bad news for John Edwards and my fellow addicts everywhere: According to a new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, “those who drank diet soft drinks daily were 43 percent more likely to have suffered a vascular event than those who drank none.” The study found no evidence that drinking regular soda increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, or death. And “diet soft drink users”—their term—who manage to imbibe less frequently (between one soda a month and six a week) did not demonstrate an increased risk, either.
You could say that I consume diet sodas “daily.” And I’m not alone: Elton John, Victoria Beckham, Bill Clinton, and Edwards all claim “addictions.” User, addict—these terms are apt. For me, diet soda isn’t an occasional treat—it’s an occupational hazard, one of the few things keeping me from face-planting into my keyboard. It’s my version of chain smoking.
It should have been obvious that my excessive consumption of diet soda was not a wholesome choice. But as a press release accompanying the study notes, our “current climate of escalating obesity rates” tends to reinforce the idea that reduced-calorie options are healthier than their alternatives. I want to believe it’s not that bad.
Then again, researchers emphasized that the results showed only “a potential association” and no actual “mechanisms by which soft drinks may affect vascular events.” The impulse to internally defend my diet soda habit was rising. Perhaps some other horrible unknown variable was really to blame?
My tour of justification brought me to the The Calorie Control Council, “an association representing the low-calorie food and beverage industry.” Wouldn’t you know? The Calorie Control Council is skeptical of these findings. In a press release accompanied by a photograph of an energetic elderly woman, the council dismissed the diet soda-stroke link the last time scientists raised concerns about the drinks. “The findings are so speculative and preliminary at this point that they should be considered with extreme caution,” the organization said. It then quoted Dr. Richard Besser, who added, “It’s bad because of the science, but it’s also bad because of the behavior that it can induce … I don’t think people should change behavior based on this study.”
On one hand, scientists warn that diet soda consumption could seriously increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. On the other, a lobbying group representing low-calorie beverages warns us to exercise “extreme caution” before we decide to drink less Diet Coke. Meanwhile, soda companies are suing local governments that claim full-calorie syrupy drinks have a role in obesity. It’s true that the “long-term health consequences of drinking diet soft drinks remain unclear.” But it’s enough for me to lay off the silver can at least one day a week.