Sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption had substantially increased across successive US birth cohorts until 2000, and adolescents and young adults under age 50 years have the highest consumption. However, the link between SSBs and early-onset colorectal cancer (EO-CRC) remains unexamined.
Design In the Nurses’ Health Study II (1991–2015), we prospectively investigated the association of SSB intake in adulthood and adolescence with EO-CRC risk among 95 464 women who had reported adulthood beverage intake using validated food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) every 4 years. A subset of 41 272 participants reported beverage intake at age 13–18 years using a validated high school-FFQ in 1998. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate relative risks (RRs) with 95% CIs.
Results We documented 109 EO-CRC cases. Compared with individuals who consumed <1 serving/week of SSBs in adulthood, women who consumed ≥2 servings/day had a more than doubled risk of EO-CRC (RR 2.18; 95% CI 1.10 to 4.35; ptrend=0.02), with a 16% higher risk (RR 1.16; 95% CI 1.00 to 1.36) per serving/day increase. Each serving/day increment of SSB intake at age 13–18 years was associated with a 32% higher risk of EO-CRC (RR 1.32; 95% CI 1.00 to 1.75). Replacing each serving/day of adulthood SSB intake with that of artificially sweetened beverages, coffee, reduced fat milk or total milk was associated with a 17%–36% lower risk of EO-CRC.
Conclusion Higher SSB intake in adulthood and adolescence was associated with a higher risk of EO-CRC among women. Reduction of SSB consumption among adolescents and young adults may serve as a potential strategy to alleviate the growing burden of EO-CRC.