Have you noticed how many artificial sweeteners are in children’s foods? Some health experts are concerned about the long-term effects…

A new American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement has called for research into how artificial sweeteners affect children’s weight, taste preferences, the risk for diabetes, and long-term safety.

They recommend that the amount of these no- or low-calorie sweeteners be listed on product labels so families and researchers can better understand how much children are consuming and any possible health effects.

Artificial sweeteners are consumed by at least one in four children in the US.

“Looking at the evidence, we found there’s still a lot to learn about the impact of non-nutritive sweeteners on children’s health,” says Carissa Baker-Smith, MD, MPH, FAAP, lead author of the AAP policy statement and an associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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“We need more research into the use of non-nutritive sweeteners and the risk for obesity and type-2 diabetes, especially in children. Considering how many children are regularly consuming these products – which have become ubiquitous – we should have a better understanding of how they impact children’s long-term health.”

The rise of artificial sweeteners

Non-nutritive sweeteners were introduced into the food supply more than 60 years ago to mimic the taste of table sugar without adding calories.

Eight non-nutritive sweeteners are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-potassium, sucralose, neotame and advantame were approved as food additives, while stevia and luo han guo (monk fruit) are approved under the “generally recognised as safe” (GRAS) designation.

These products are 180 to 20 000 times sweeter than sugar.

When non-nutritive sweeteners were first introduced, health concerns focused on a potential risk of cancer, which was not borne out in subsequent research. Health concerns around these products has shifted.

As the obesity epidemic has driven increased use of these products, attention is directed at conflicting evidence over whether non-nutritive sweeteners actually help control weight.

Artificial sweeteners’ toxic effect on the gut

Conflicting findings on artificial sweeteners

The majority of short-term studies suggest that substituting a non-nutritive sweetener for sugar may reduce weight gain and promote small amounts of weight loss in children, according to the AAP. However, data is limited.

There is also research suggesting possible links between non-nutritive sweetener use and weight gain. In addition, some studies suggest links between non-nutritive sweetener use and changes in appetite and taste preferences, as well as in the gut microbiome, which may affect blood sugar levels and lead to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, diabetes and weight gain. But findings remain inconsistent.

What is in your children’s food?

Many parents aren’t aware that their child is consuming artificial sweeteners.

One study found that only 23% of parents can correctly identify food products that contain non-nutritive sweeteners. In addition, 53% of parents said they seek items labelled “reduced sugar”, but most did not recognise that the sweet taste was instead being provided by a non-nutritive sweetener.

It is currently hard to know how much non-nutritive sweetener is in a product since manufacturers aren’t required to specify,” says Dr Baker-Smith. “Listing the amount of non-nutritive sweetener a product contains would help families and researchers understand how much is actually being consumed by individuals and populations and further evaluate potentially related health effects,” says Dr Baker-Smith.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics www.sciencedaily.com.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.