Low/no calorie sweeteners play a critical role in helping address the burden of non-communicable diseases and the global obesity crisis
Brussels, 15th May 2023: The International Sweeteners Association (ISA) today has issued a response to the publication of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline on the use of non-sugar sweeteners. In light of the global effort to address the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including dental diseases which are the most prevalent NCD globally, and other societal challenges such as the global obesity crisis, the ISA believes it is a disservice to public health to not recognise low/no calorie sweeteners’ role in reducing sugar and calorie intake and aiding in weight control.
The ISA believes this guideline should have been based on the comprehensive set of available evidence and interpreted considering the hierarchy and weight of scientific evidence. The WHO could only conclude a conditional recommendation, which is not scientifically rigorous, nor based on a robust evidence base or supported by the evidence presented in the WHO-commissioned systematic review itself. The ISA joins others, including relevant government agencies around the globe, who have responded to the public consultation on the draft guideline expressing their concerns about the conclusions and rationale used by WHO. ISA agrees with the UK’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities that commented “the guideline may go too far” and with the Australian government’s Department of Health and Aged Care who wrote that “the recommendation may result in undesirable health outcomes for some individuals.”
“Food and beverage companies have reformulated products as part of a comprehensive, global effort to meet public health recommendations (including from the WHO) for sugar reduction” said ISA Chairman Bob Peterson. “Low/no calorie sweeteners have enabled this innovation and ultimately contribute to the creation of healthier food environments by allowing people to enjoy food and drinks with less sugar and fewer calories, while still meeting their taste preferences.”
ISA also expresses concern over the lack of recognition for the well-established benefits of low/no calorie sweeteners in sugar and calorie reduction. Global efforts to address complex challenges of NCDs reduction requires coherent policies based on rigorous scientific evaluation and higher quality research. While this guideline does not apply to people living with diabetes, it could mislead those who need to manage their carbohydrate and sugar intake.
An extensive body of robust and high-quality scientific evidence, including as presented in the WHO-commissioned systematic review, shows that low/no calorie sweeteners:
- Are safe and have been extensively researched and approved by safety bodies around the world such as JECFA, the US FDA or EFSA;
- Have a role to play in the fight against obesity, helping adults and children reduce their calorie intake and body weight, when used instead of sugar, and as part of a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle;
- Offer people with diabetes an important alternative to sugar as low/no calorie sweeteners cause a lower rise in blood sugar levels when used instead of sugars;
- Do not contribute to tooth decay and its use instead of sugar actually “contributes to the maintenance of tooth mineralisation” and to the neutralisation of plaque acids.
- Are an essential tool in helping food and drink companies reformulate products, to reduce the amount of sugar and calories contained.
Low/no calorie sweeteners are safe to use, one of the most thoroughly researched ingredients in the world and have been approved by all major food safety bodies, including the European Food Safety Authority.
Despite this inconsistent position from the WHO, ISA remains committed to informing all stakeholders, including consumers across the globe, about low/no calorie sweeteners’ helpful contribution to the creation of healthy food environments.
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