Artificial sweeteners and fat children

soda-pop-300x255That’s improbable!

This might be your reaction to the results of a new study that looked at a link between a pregnant woman’s consumption of artificial sweeteners and her baby’s chances of becoming obese. In fact there seems to be a connection.  The $64 question: is it Cause-and-Effect, or just an association?

Over 3000 mother-infant pairs were studied.  The moms filled out diet questionnaires; the infants’ BMI was measured at 1 year of age.  The mothers’ consumption of both artificially-sweetened beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages was noted.  Results:

  • 30% of the moms consumed artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy, although only 5% reported daily consumption.
  • Of the 5% reporting daily consumption: their infants had significantly higher BMI at 1 year of age, and had a 2X higher risk for being overweight at one year of age.
  • Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was not associated with higher risk of obesity in the infant.
  • Birthweight was not different between the groups. The difference in infant weight showed up at 1 year of age.

Conclusion: artificial sweeteners consumed during pregnancy, particularly daily, puts the infant at risk for developing obesity by 1 year of age.

So what is going on?  The study was not set up to answer that question.  Could there be some effect in utero on a baby’s metabolism, setting the baby up to gain fat more easily?  Or are artificial sweeteners a marker for some other diet or lifestyle factor that affects metabolism?  Even when the researchers accounted for other lifestyle risk factors  — such as shorter duration of breastfeeding and earlier introduction of solid foods —  the artificial sweetener link held up.  Animal studies also support this effect.  Right now, at most, we can say there’s some effect.  And as other health experts note, women should consider avoiding diet drinks during pregnancy.

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