By Alice Park
They’re supposed to be a way to have the proverbial cake and, literally, eat it too: all the sweet taste without the calories and the metabolic health problems that come with sugar.
But it turns out that artificial sweeteners may be too good to be true, more and more studies are finding. The latest, which looked at moms-to-be who consumed more artificial sweeteners, found that even though they are low- or no-calorie, the compounds may contribute to overweight and obesity in their children after birth.
In a report published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers led by Meghan Azad, assistant professor in pediatrics and child health at University of Manitoba in Canada, studied more than 3,000 pregnant women and their infants. The expectant moms answered questions about what they ate, and their babies were followed for a year after birth. Moms who reported consuming more artificial sweeteners—such as Equal (aspartame), Splenda (sucralose) and Sweet’n Low (saccharin)—in beverages were twice as likely to have children that were overweight or obese at one year, compared to women who reported using artificial sweeteners less.
This finding does not suggest that artificial sweeteners cause obesity in children, but it does support previous research that found similar links between the sugar substitutes and health issues, including weight gain, in animal and human studies. This may be the first human study, however, to investigate how artificial sweeteners during pregnancy might affect weight among infants.