The sour note on fake sweeteners

Childhood use of sugar substitutes jumped 200 percent from 1999 to 2012—and that’s not a good thing.
About 1 in 4 children use products with artificial sweeteners, researchers found. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Use of artificial sugar by American children and adults has soared in recent years—and the news isn’t all that sweet, a new study suggests.

Consumption of foods and beverages with low-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin rose 200 percent among children between 1999 and 2012. Their use rose 54 percent among adults, researchers said.

“Just 8.7 percent of kids reported consuming low-calorie sweeteners in 1999, and thirteen years later that number had risen to 25.1 percent,” said study author Allison Sylvetsky, of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Some were as young as 2 years old, she and her colleagues noted.

“Kids aren’t alone in this trend. More adults also are taking in low-calorie sweeteners in diet soft drinks and in a variety of foods and snack items,” Sylvetsky, an assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences, said in a university news release.

Sylvetsky’s team used data from nearly 17,000 men, women and children included in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey from 2009 to 2012. They compared the findings to 1999-2008 survey results.

In 2012, about 1 in 4 children and more than 41 percent of adults said they used products with low-calorie sweeteners, the researchers found.

“The findings are important, especially for children, because some studies suggest a link between low-calorie sweeteners and obesity, diabetes and other health issues,” Sylvetsky added.

Some studies have suggested that consuming products with low-calorie sweeteners can help with weight loss, while other studies have shown that consuming these products may lead to weight gain.

This may be because intensely sweet foods can trigger cravings for more, or because people who drink a diet soda think they’ve avoided enough calories to have second helpings, Sylvetsky suggested.

She said most parents and many experts don’t believe it’s a good idea for kids to consume lots of foods or beverages with chemically made sugar substitutes.

For overall health, Sylvetsky suggested a diet with plenty of fruits and veggies, whole grains and limited added sugars.

“Drink water instead of soda. Sweeten a serving of plain yogurt with a little fruit,” Sylvetsky said. “And don’t forget an apple or another piece of fresh fruit is a great snack for both kids and adults.”

The study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

SOURCES: George Washington University, news release, Jan. 10, 2017

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