In 2013, 42 million infants and kids were overweight or obese and although recent data suggests that in Canada the rate is decreasing this is still a growing and problematic epidemic. The rise in obesity in kids is likely a combination of genetic factors, poor diet consisting of sugar sweetened drinks, in activity, and now artificial sweeteners? The case against artificial sweeteners has been building for a couple years with data suggesting it could contribute to weight gain. Now a new study has identified a link between the consumption of artificial sweeteners during pregnancy and the risk of having a heavier baby.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, looked at artificial sweetener consumption in over 2400 mothers and how that affected the weight of their 1 year old child. The mothers were asked how often they consumed diet pop or soda or sweetened their coffee or tea with artificial sweetener during their pregnancy. The responses were grouped into the following categories: less than 1 time per month, no more than 1 per week, 2 to 6 per week, or 1 or more per day. They then measured the Body mass index (or BMI) of the children at 1 year of age. The BMI is a ratio between your weight and your height. The heavier you are for your given height, the greater your BMI will be. Normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, overweight is between 25 and 29.9 and obese is over 30. You can calculate your BMI here. The data showed that those mothers who consumed 1 or more beverages with artificial sweetener had children who were more likely to be heavy (overweight) by the age of 1 than those who consumed less than 1 per month. In total, there were 122 women in the study who had beverages with artificial sweetener every day and their kids were twice as likely to be heavy.
A couple things to consider about the research. This paper doesn’t say that consuming artificial sweetened beverages during pregnancy will cause your children to be overweight or obese later in life, just that mothers who did consume artificial sweetened beverages were more likely to have heavier kids. It is likely that heavier kids are more at risk for being overweight or obese later in life specifically if they don’t keep a healthy life style. Also, there was no way of knowing in the study which artificial sweetener the mothers consumed (aspartame, sucralose, stevia). More work needs to be done to determine if all artificial sweeteners have the same risk associated with them. We also don’t know cause yet, meaning we don’t know how artificial sweeteners during pregnancy cause this increase in childhood weight. More work is needed but this study adds to a list of studies suggesting artificial sweeteners are not the holy grail of sweet food we thought they were.