Sweetened drinks are not generally considered healthy for anyone, but they may be particularly harmful for the elderly.
Researchers report that consumption of both sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened drinks is associated with an increased risk for frailty in women older than 60.
The scientists defined frailty as meeting at least three of five criteria: fatigue, reduced strength, low aerobic capacity, having five or more chronic illnesses, and having at least a 5% weight loss during the past two years.
The study, in PLOS Medicine, included 71,935 women who had filled out food-frequency and health questionnaires periodically from 1992 to 2014. During that time, 11,559 of the women met the criteria for frailty.
Women who drank two or more servings of sugar-sweetened beverages a day were 32% more likely to become frail than those who drank none. For artificially sweetened drinks, the results were similar — a 28% increased risk for women who had two or more servings a day. The study controlled for age, smoking, alcohol intake, and many other health and behavioral characteristics.
"This is a very large study with many years of follow-up," said the lead author, Ellen Struijk, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Madrid, "but it still needs to be repeated in different populations before we can draw final conclusions."
Still, she said, "We would advise people to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. Artificially sweetened beverages should be consumed in moderation, and high intakes should be avoided."