Children’s consumption of beverages sweetened with low-calorie or no-calorie sweeteners has more than doubled over the past decade in the United States, according to a new study.
Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that 6.1% of children reported drinking sugar-free soft drinks in 1999-2000, compared to 12.5% in 2007-2008. Adults’ consumption of artificially sweetened drinks has increased during that time too, though not as rapidly, from 18.7% in 1999-2000 to 24.1% in 2007-2008.
Led by Allison Sylvetsky of Emory University in Atlanta, the researchers suggested several possible reasons for the increase in consumption of sugar-free soft drinks, including obesity prevention campaigns, increased negative health associations of excessive sugar consumption in recent years, or increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes. However they added that further research was necessary to determine the health effects of low-calorie sweetener consumption on young children, if any.
“Given recent discussions of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages and banning regular sodas in school systems and the growing popularity of differential pricing structures to promote healthier choices, it can be anticipated that LCS [low-calorie sweetener] consumption will increase further,” they wrote. “Most importantly, given the rapid increases in LCS consumption among children, their long-term effects, particularly when started in the early years, need to be studied.”
Calling for further research into artificial sweetener consumption and weight management, they cite previous research that has suggested a correlation between higher consumption of artificially sweetened soft drinks and increased prevalence of overweight and obesity. However, it is unclear whether artificial sweeteners actually cause weight gain, or whether overweight individuals are more likely to consume artificially sweetened drinks in an effort to control their weight.
While the study’s authors found increased consumption of sugar-free soft drinks, they found little change in consumption of foods containing low-calorie sweeteners between the two periods they examined.
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
First published online August 1, 2012; doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.034751
“Low-calorie sweetener consumption is increasing in the United States”
Authors: Allison C Sylvetsky, Jean A Welsh, Rebecca J Brown, and Miriam B Vos