More and more kids are turning to artificial sweeteners for their sugar fix, a new study suggests.
“We were somewhat surprised,” said Allison Sylvetsky, assistant professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University and lead author of the study. “While we anticipated an increase, the magnitude of the increase was much larger than we had anticipated, particularly in kids,” she said.
Grown-ups aren’t exempt from the findings. According to research, the consumption of sugar substitutes in adults has increased by 54 percent.
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It’s not surprising that more people are choosing artificial sweeteners, Sylvetsky notes.“There has been a lot of pressure put on the food and beverage industry to reformulate, which has led to more lower-sugar, low-calorie sweetener containing products appearing on the market.”
Artificial sweeteners are sweet-tasting compounds that contain little or no calories when consumed. They are used to replace added sugars (such as high-fructose corn syrup) in foods and beverages, and are found in products like sugar-free ice cream, diet sodas, powdered drink mixes and low-fat yogurt.
Artificial sweeteners include ingredients such as aspartame, stevia, sucralose and saccharin.
To complete the study, researchers compared two sets of data analysis from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. One set analyzed data on low-calorie sweetener consumption from 2009 to 2012, and the other examined artificial sweetener consumption from 1999 to 2008.
The results showed that 25 percent of children in the United States consumed low-calorie sweeteners from 2009 to 2012 – up from just 8.7 percent from 1999 to 2008. 80 percent of children reported using low-calorie sweeteners once a day, while 20 percent consumed it more than once a day.
Researchers report that beverages, like diet sodas, account for most of the artificial sweetener consumption.
Should Artificial Sweeteners Be Avoided?
Sylvetsky says people don’t need to cut low-calorie sweeteners from their diet altogether as there isn’t a strong enough scientific consensus to make that recommendation.
“We don’t want to tell people to avoid low-calorie sweeteners, because we don’t have a lot of evidence to suggest that they’re harmful,” Sylvetsky said. “But we also don’t have a lot of evidence to suggest that they’re helpful.”
Though low-calorie sweeteners are considered safe in terms of toxicology, experts have long debated whether they are beneficial for weight management.
“There is tremendous public health significance in investigating whether low-calorie sweeteners are helpful or harmful for weight management and chronic disease prevention,” Sylvetsky said. “This is particularly important to study in children, as early life exposure may influence future taste preferences and dietary patterns.”