Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are popular sugar substitutes that can help in weight and diabetes management, but concerns regarding their use have been raised by the public. This study aimed to investigate knowledge, benefits and safety perceptions of NNS in a sample of UK adults. The impact of knowledge dissemination on the change in perceptions was also examined. An online survey was distributed through social media platforms and UK Universities and was completed by 1589 participants aged 18 years and above. Results showed a high-risk perception of NNS and a lack of knowledge in regulations in nearly half the population sample. The artificial attributes of NNS further limited their acceptance. Risk perception has been significantly linked to a lower consumption of sweeteners (p < 0.001) and was affected by gender, occupation, education levels, age and body weight status. Information dissemination significantly reduced risk perception and increased awareness of the benefits of NNS. Results suggest that developing effective communication strategies to educate consumers, potentially through trusted health government agencies and professional bodies, can help them to make informed choices. Education of health professionals could also be valuable in reassuring the public of the benefits of NNS.
The current study explored what people know and think about low/no calorie sweeteners and the factors influencing their believes about their risk and benefits. A lack of knowledge in regulations about low/no calorie sweeteners was associated with a high-risk perception, which was reported by nearly half the population sample. However, risk perception was reduced, and awareness of sweeteners’ benefits was increased, when information from trusted regulatory agencies or scientific organisations were disseminated to participants.
In this online survey in 1589 adult participants in the United Kingdom, 61.8% of the population sample reported consumption of low/no calorie sweetened foods and beverages, and the main reason for choosing these products was the low energy content of sweeteners. A higher risk perception has been significantly linked to a lower consumption of sweeteners.
Nearly half the population sample reported a high-risk perception of sweeteners, indicating concerns about their potential risks. However, at the same time, 42.8% of participants lacked awareness in regulations, who consistently support the safety of low/no calorie sweeteners.
The participants who were aware of regulations were more in favour of the benefits of low/no calorie sweeteners than those who were not informed. The study also found that when participants were informed about the positions of regulatory and scientific agencies, they significantly changed their views about risk perception and increased their awareness of the benefits of low/no calorie sweeteners. Among those worried, 60% stated that they would have been less concerned had they known this information in advance. They were also more convinced that low/no calorie sweeteners do not lead to weight gain or cause diabetes or cancer.
The authors of the study conclude that developing the right communication strategies to educate consumers on the positions of trusted health government agencies and professional bodies, can help them to make informed choices. Education of health professionals could also be valuable in reassuring the public of the benefits of low/no calorie sweeteners.