DUBAI // Doctors have urged consumers to curb their appetite for soft drinks to reduce dangerous levels of diabetes and obesity.
UAE residents each consume an average of 103 litres, or about 300 cans, of soft drinks a year, the fifth highest in the world. The global average is 121 cans and in Indonesia it is only 6.
Excessive consumption can cause or exacerbate a wide range of medical conditions, said Dr Maged Shurrab, specialist family physician at Al Tadawi Medical Centre in Dubai.
"First of all, they'll give you extra calories for nothing, which can lead to weight gain and obesity. These can, in turn, lead to problems with the heart, lungs and rest of the body.
"At the same time, they will dissolve tooth enamel because they contain acid, which could again lead to heart disease."
The high volumes of sugar and fructose in soft drinks increase the risk of developing diabetes and hypertension, and preservatives could trigger asthma attacks, Dr Shurrab said.
"Some research also shows soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and weak bones.
"It's advisable to avoid these drinks as they have a negative impact on your health - they can cause damage to your entire body."
Dr Shurrab said excessive soft drink consumption was symptomatic of a larger problem; people were eating and drinking less healthily in general.
"If you look at US trends, for example, there's an increased consumption of junk food and soft drinks. Even the orange juice people drink is often unhealthy.
"As a doctor, I prefer to recommend the optimal diet and especially in these times we should take care of our health. People should eat well and exercise. In the end, your health depends on how you treat your body. If you treat it well, you will be well - if you don't, then you won't."
Rashi Chowdhary, a nutritionist in Dubai, said consumers should not make the mistake of thinking diet soft drinks were healthier than regular ones.
"Switching to diet colas is not the answer. In fact buying anything that says sugar-free, fat-free or diet only guarantees consumption of harmful artificial chemicals that wreak havoc on our digestive tract.
"Consuming diet drinks is downright foolish. Your body is hard-wired to the natural taste of sugar; so when you drink a diet cola, your body will always make up for the sugar it did not receive in other forms.
"They're loaded with high fructose corn syrup, one of the biggest culprits contributing to midsection obesity, high triglyceride levels, high insulin levels and, in some cases, a disturbed sleeping pattern."
However, she added, people who exercise regularly, hydrate well and eat healthily 80 per cent of the time were entitled to drink a regular cola "once in a while".
A report published in the American Journal of Public Health this year found that soft drink consumption was significantly associated with obesity and diabetes worldwide.
Over 1.5 billion people are overweight worldwide and at least 1 in 20 adults have diabetes.
Industry analysts expect soft drink consumption to rise by 9.5 per cent worldwide in the next five years. The report said this would lead to 192 million new cases of diabetes and an additional 2.3 billion overweight and 1.1 billion obese adults.
Diabetes affects about one in five Emiratis and 30.2 per cent of men and 43 per cent of women in the UAE aged 20 or over are obese.