U.S. rates of diabetes have soared alongside soft drink consumption, and scientists said on Tuesday the spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels triggered by the sugary drinks may be at least partly to blame.

Adult-onset diabetes, which afflicts 17 million Americans, is caused by the body either becoming resistant to insulin or not producing enough of it.

“Rates of diabetes are skyrocketing. At the same time, over the last couple of decades, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has increased,” said Meir Stampfer of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, one of the authors of a study examining the link.

Between 1977 and 1997, U.S. soft drink consumption rose 61 percent among adults and more than doubled among children, the study said. The increased incidence of diabetes has also paralleled the growing obesity epidemic, the report said.

As part of a study of 91,000 female nurses participating in the second phase of the Nurses Health Study, based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the Harvard researchers isolated the relationship between frequent soft drink consumption and diabetes. A total of 741 women developed diabetes during the 1991 to 1999 study period.

“Women who were drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks every day or more than once a day had an 80 percent increased risk of diabetes compared with women who hardly ever drank sugared sodas,” Stampfer said.

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