Experts found the damage fizzy drinks cause to health goes beyond making people fat - they also appear to speed up the rate at which cells age.
The research showed that people who drank the equivalent of two cans of cola a day had DNA changes of cells 4.6 years older.
Campaigners have blamed sugary drinks for contributing to the rise in obesity and the number of people with type-2 diabetes, but this is the first piece to research to link soft drinks with premature ageing.
Scientists analysed thousands of DNA samples to find that people who regularly reached for a fizzy drink had shorter telomeres,
These are tiny structures that protect DNA from damage and are an indicator of health.
Found at the ends of chromosomes, they protect the DNA in them from damage, much like the caps on the ends of shoelaces prevent fraying.
As we get older, our telomeres get shorter and shorter, leading to DNA becoming damaged and raising the odds of age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer's, diabetes and heart disease.
Shorter than average telomeres are seen as a sign of ill health and premature death.
Studying telomeres, the scientists found people who regularly drank sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks had ‘significantly' shorter telomeres than those who did not.
Professor Elissa Epel, from the University of California at San Francisco, said: ‘Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence disease development, not only by straining the body's metabolic control of sugars, but also through accelerated cellular ageing of tissues.
‘This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness.
‘This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level.
'Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset.’
While she only studied adults, Professor Epel warned it is possible that drinking fizzy drinks is linked to telomere shortening in children, too.
Scientists analysed thousands of DNA samples to find people who regularly consumed fizzy drinks had shorter telomeres (illustrated). These are tiny structures that protect DNA from damage and are an indicator of health
However, she stressed the study shows a link between soft drinks and ageing, but doesn't prove drinking fizzy drinks causes the ageing of cells.
Working keeps you young, according to a study published last summer.
The research linked unemployment with premature ageing. It is thought that the financial and emotional stress of being jobless makes its mark on the body's DNA.
Men who had been out of work for at least two of the three years before their blood was taken were more than twice as likely to have short telomeres as those who had been in continuous employment.
Researcher Jessica Buxton, of Imperial College London, said this suggests that the financial and emotional stress associated with being out of work was to blame.
She said: 'Stressful life experiences in childhood and adulthood have previously been linked to accelerated telomere shortening.'
In the study, the scientists measured telomeres in the white blood cells of 5,309 participants aged 20 to 65, with no history of diabetes or heart disease.
They found drinking two cans of cola a day - 20 fluid ounces - was linked to 4.6 years of ageing, based on telomere shortening and that one in five of the study’s participants fell into this category.
Drinking a small soft drink daily, equivalent to eight fluid ounces, was associated with telomere shortening equivalent to 1.9 additional years of ageing.
The effect on telomere length was similar to that of smoking, the researchers wrote in the American Journal of Public Health.
Dr Cindy Leung, also of the university, said: ‘It is critical to understand both dietary factors that may shorten telomeres, as well as dietary factors that may lengthen telomeres.
‘Here it appeared that the only beverage consumption that had a measurable negative association with telomere length was consumption of sugared soda.’
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