Women who consume artificially-sweetened beverages while pregnant could be putting their babies at risk for childhood obesity, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health.
The study focused on data from 1996 to 2002 from the Danish National Birth Cohort, a study that observes the pregnancies of over 91,000 women in Denmark. Cuilin Zhang, the study’s senior author, said drinking artificially-sweetened beverages as an alternative to sugar doesn’t help pregnant women very much.
“Our findings suggest that artificially-sweetened beverages during pregnancy are not likely to be any better at reducing the risk for later childhood obesity than sugar-sweetened beverages,” Zhang said in a press release. “Not surprisingly, we also observed that children born to women who drank water instead of sweetened beverages were less likely to be obese by age seven.”
The study authors said as a woman’s pregnancy continues, the amniotic fluid volume increases. As the fluid volume increases, the mother increases consumption of fluids.
By attempting to avoid unnecessary calories, women may substitute sugar-sweetened drinks with artificially-sweetened beverages. The authors said they wanted to determine whether artificially-sweetened beverages affected the weight of children.
The mothers’ diets were assessed based on their answers to a food frequency questionnaire during their pregnancies. The infants’ body mass index scores were also measured at 5 months, 1 year and 7 years old.
Almost half of the women reported consuming artificially-sweetened beverages during their pregnancies, while nine percent of the women reported drinking them daily. Compared to those who never consumed artificially-sweetened beverages, there was a positive association for babies to be born larger-for-gestational age, the study said.
They were also positively associated with a higher BMI score as well as being overweight or obese at 7 years old. Substituting the artificially-sweetened beverages with water was related to a lower overweight or obesity risk at 7 years old by 17 percent.
Children born to mothers who consumed artificially-sweetened beverages versus those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages were found to be equally likely to be overweight or obese, the study said.
“Our findings illustrated positive associations between intrauterine exposure to [artificially-sweetened beverages] and birth size and risk of overweight/obesity at seven years,” the study said.
The authors recommended more up-to-date research, given the popularity rise of artificially-sweetened beverages. The study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Tori Linville is a freelance writer and editor from Clarksville, Tennessee. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s faithfully watching her alma mater, the University of Alabama, dominate the football field.