World Health Organization warns against using artificial sweeteners
The World Health Organization on Monday warned against using artificial sweeteners to control body weight or reduce the risk of NCDs, saying long-term use is not effective and could pose health risks.
These alternatives to sugar do not contribute to reducing body fat in either adults or children with long-term consumption, the WHO said in a recommendation, adding that continued consumption may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and the could increase mortality in adults.
“The recommendation applies to all people except those with pre-existing diabetes and includes all synthetic and naturally occurring or modified non-nutritional sweeteners not classified as sugars found in manufactured foods and beverages or sold individually to supplement foods and being added to beverages.” by consumers,” WHO said.
The WHO recommendation is based on a review of available evidence, the agency said, and is part of a set of healthy eating guidelines that are being rolled out.
Some examples of sweeteners are aspartame, saccharin, sucralose and stevia. The WHO announcement contradicts previous studies that said these sweeteners offer no health benefits, but neither do they cause harm.
Nutrition research is constantly evolving and the results are being updated with more meaningful data, said Stephanie McBurnett, a registered dietitian and nutrition educator with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Studying the effects of saturated fats and other components of the human diet may provide more insight into the common reasons for some health problems attributed to sugar.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the World Health Organization hasn’t found any real difference in the health benefits between regular soda and diet soda,” said Ms. McBurnett, who is also a licensed dietician and nutritionist. “Both are processed foods.” She added, “When you look at what’s causing these chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity, sugar isn’t always the only factor.”
The WHO recommendation has no direct bearing on the policies of any individual country. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could consider these guidance and raise its own concerns or adjust the labeling, Ms McBurnett said. However, there is no obligation to do so.
The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The International Sweeteners Association, a non-profit organization representing the industry, called the WHO recommendation a disservice to consumers.
“Low/no calorie sweeteners are among the most thoroughly researched ingredients in the world and remain a helpful tool in the management of obesity, diabetes and dental disease,” the association said in a statement. “They offer consumers an alternative to reducing sugar and calorie intake with the sweet taste they know and expect.”
The WHO recommendation is currently considered conditional, the organization said.
“This signals that policy decisions based on this recommendation may require substantive discussion in specific country contexts, for example in relation to levels of use across different age groups,” the statement said.
The recommendation does not extend to personal care and hygiene products that contain artificial sugars, such as toothpaste, skin creams and medicines, according to the WHO. In addition, low-calorie sugars and sugar alcohols, which come from the sugar itself, are not included.
“People need to consider other ways to reduce free sugar intake, such as eating foods with naturally occurring sugars, such as fruit, or unsweetened foods and drinks,” said Francesco Branca, WHO director of nutrition and nutrition food safety. He said that sugar-free sweeteners “are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value.” To improve their health, people should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether early in life.”