Low-calorie sweetener use up 200 percent in U.S. children

By Amy Wallace   |   Jan. 10, 2017 at 10:22 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- A first-of-its-kind study found that the number of American children consuming low-calorie sweeteners jumped 200 percent from 1999 to 2012.

Researchers from George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health report that about 25 percent of children and more than 41 percent of adults in the United States say they consumed food and beverages containing low-calorie sweeteners during that time span.

Aspartame, sucralose and saccharin are popular types of low-calorie sweeteners used to replace added sugars such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup in foods and beverages.

"Just 8.7 percent of kids reported consuming low-calorie sweeteners in 1999 and 13 years later that number had risen to 25.1 percent," Allison Sylvetsky, Ph.D., an assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences at the George Washington and lead author of the study, said in a press release.

"Kids aren't alone in this trend. More adults also are taking in low-calorie sweeteners in diet soft drinks and in a variety of foods and snack items. The findings are important, especially for children, because some studies suggest a link between low-calorie sweeteners and obesity, diabetes and other health issues."

Researchers studied data from 17,000 men, women and children included in the National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey from 2009 to 2012. They compared their findings to previous studies from 1999 to 2008.

In the survey from 2009-12, the studies showed 44 percent of adults and 20 percent of children consumed low-calorie sweeteners more than once a day; 17 percent of adults consumed them more than three times a day; 19 percent of adults with obesity compared to 13 percent of normal-weight adults used the products three times a day or more; 70 percent of the consumption happened at home; and children as young as 2 were consuming the products.

The study clearly shows a striking increase in low-calorie sweetener consumption for U.S. children and teens, according to Sylvetsky. The research shows that 1 in 4 U.S. children are consuming the sweeteners, primarily at home.

Sylvetsky said parents may be purchasing items with low-calorie sweeteners thinking they are healthier than other options.

There is no scientific consensus on the health impacts associated with consuming the products.

The study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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