Low calorie sweeteners can help prevent a major health epidemic
02 April 2014
It’s time to tackle public misconceptions about low calorie
sweeteners before the health consequences of obesity become even worse,
Professor Anne Raben, from the Unit for Obesity Research at Copenhagen
University, told an international meeting of health professionals
“If the current trend for increasing obesity and weight gain
continues by 2020 half the population of the US will either have
diabetes or be in a pre-diabetic state,” warned Prof Raben, a key note
speaker at the International Sweeteners Association conference in
Europe is not doing much better. “Currently 31million people in the
EU need treatment for diabetes, and if they continue to follow the US
where increasing obesity is matched by increasing cases type 2 diabetes
(T2D) the situation can only get worse”, said Prof Raben.
“The most serious consequence of diabetes is a three to four times
increased risk of cardiovascular disease. By 2050 33% of the EU
population could have T2D.” Preventing that happening is essential, said
Prof Raben, which is why it is now essential to quash the myths about
low calorie sweeteners.
“There is a belief that low calorie sweeteners will make you fat by
increasing your appetite for sweet foods.” But the belief that people
will overcompensate for the calories they save when using low calorie
sweeteners is unfounded.
“There are no scientific studies to support the early studies from
the 1980s that suggested this might be the case. “No studies in the last
25 to 30 years have confirmed this,” said Prof Raben.
Neither have hypotheses that low calorie sweeteners provoke hunger
and cause overeating, or that they do not satisfy the appetite leading
to compensatory eating at the next meals, been proved. “These mechanisms
were considered again in studies in 2009 and 2012 but rejected,” said
Prof Raben’s studies have shown that the opposite is true – users of
low calorie sweeteners show no weight gain over time. In a ‘gold
standard’ randomised controlled trial participants randomly given
beverages sweetened with containing low calorie sweeteners for a 10 week
period either, stayed the same weight, or showed slight weight loss.
“The finding surprised us as they were the opposite of what theorists
who criticise low calorie drinks surmise,” said Prof Raben.
More recent studies have had the same effect. A study published in
the prestigious medical peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine in
2012 showed that nearly 700 children aged five to 12 did not gain
weight during 18 months of drinking low calorie sweetened beverages.
“Even stronger evidence for the efficacy of low calorie sweetened
drinks was demonstrated in a meta-analysis of trials comparing adults
who consumed both foods and drinks containing low calorie sweeteners,”
said Prof Raben. When all the results were pooled and analysed users of
low calorie sweeteners did not gain weight.
“As we have seen, with increases in weight comes increased risk of T2D, obesity and coronary heart disease,” warned Prof Raben.
“If we disregard the science that shows that low calorie sweeteners
are an important tool in controlling obesity and T2D, we miss an
important tool in weight control and obesity regulation.” she concluded.
Janette Marshall, Nutrition and Health Journalist