Amid rising fears about potential harmful effects of ingesting artificial sweeteners on a regular basis, sales of diet soda has dropped 6.8 percent in the 12 months ending Nov. 23, a study that used Nielsen scanner data showed, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
Sales of regular soda dropped 2.2 percent in the same period. But from an industry perspective, diet soda was expected to be the antidote for falling soda sales, not part of the trend, the Journal reported.
The industry pushed diet soda when obesity provoked a negative reaction to regular soda by becoming a prominent issue in the 1990s. But artificial sweeteners have become increasingly a target of studies that raise questions about long term health effects.
The American Beverage Association complained artificial sweeteners are "the most studied and reviewed ingredients," in the past 40 years.
Diet soda has support from the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as the Food and Drug Administration.
Fear is no more than a rumor away, however, and "there's way more not known than known," said Dana Small, a professor at Yale University's School of Medicine.
The most studied ingredients are aspartame, sucralose and acesulfame potassium, the Journal said, noting aspartame, which was given FDA approval in 1981, was linked to cancer in a study in the 1970s. That has made it the most studied of the three, the Journal said.
More recently, an opinion piece that appeared in July in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism said artificial sweeteners could throw the metabolism out of whack.
Purdue University professor Susan Swithers wrote that the sweeteners could provoke "metabolic derangements."
Soda companies are looking for replacements for the artificial ingredients, include the use of the stevia plant, which is natural, but has a slightly bitter taste.
One way or the other, "we are seeing a fundamental shift in consumer habits and behaviors,'' PepsiCo Inc. Chairman Indra Nooyi said recently.