Sugary soft drinks might be bad for your waistline but they're even worse for your heart.
A new Harvard University study found that people drinking as few as 6.5 sugary drinks a week were 20 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who never consumed them.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health studied the eating habits and incidences of heart disease in nearly 43,000 men aged 40-75 over a period of 22 years.
The men filled out surveys about their diet, health and lifestyle every few years from January 1986 to December 2008.
Ten years into the study, they also provided blood samples so researchers could test their sugar, cholesterol and lipid levels.
Researchers found that men who regularly indulged in sugary drinks had a significantly increased risk of heart disease.
This increased risk remained even once other risk factors — such as smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and family history of heart disease — were accounted for.
"This adds to the growing evidence that sugary beverages are detrimental to our health," study author Dr Frank Hu said.
"There should be a concerted effort to reduce sugary beverage consumption in our population."
Men who sipped sugary drinks once a week or less did not experience an elevated risk.
Likewise, men who consumed artificially-sweetened drinks saw no increase in their risk of heart attack.
But Hu insists this doesn't give people the green light to consume diet soft drinks, which have been associated with a number of other health problems.
"Less than one diet soda per day is probably okay, but we need more research," he said. "We also have much better alternatives like water and sweetened coffee and tea. We should consume those instead."
While this study focused on men, Hu has previously found that women who drank more than two sugary soft drinks daily were 40 percent more likely to have a heart attack than women who rarely consumed the same beverages.
"The results are basically the same for both men and women," Hu said. "We should avoid sugary beverages as much as possible. These drinks should be occasional treats rather than a regular part of our diets."
This study was published in the latest edition of the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
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