Are diet drinks bad for baby?

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Artificial sweeteners taken during pregnancy may be contributing to infant obesity


It seems counter-intuitive, but artificial sweeteners consumed during pregnancy may be a contributor to infant obesity

The popularity of artificial sweeteners has grown significantly in the last few decades, often with the assumption that they are the healthier option.

However, new research suggests pregnant women choosing this option are more likely to have overweight infants than women who drink sugary drinks.

In the study of more than 3000 mother-infant pairs, the infants of women who drank artificially sweetened drinks on a daily basis had a higher BMI, and had a two-fold higher likelihood of being overweight at 12 months old, than those who didn’t.

Surprisingly, this effect wasn’t found in women who drank sugar-sweetened beverages daily.

“To our knowledge, our results provide the first human evidence that artificial sweetener consumption during pregnancy may increase the risk of early childhood overweight,” the Canadian authors concluded.

Given the epidemic of childhood obesity, with one in four Australian children overweight or obese, more research is needed to evaluate specific sweeteners and the underlying biological mechanisms, the authors say.

Around 30% of women in the study reported drinking some artificially sweetened beverages, and 5% said they did daily. More than one in five said they drank at least one sugar-sweetened drink per day.

While studies have focused on adult subjects, the authors said that “a growing body of literature suggests that chronic [non-nutritive sweetener] consumption may paradoxically increase the risk of obesity and metabolic diseases”.

“Proposed mechanisms for this association include alteration of glucose metabolism, disruption of gut microbiota or dysregulation of satiety and caloric compensation,” they wrote.

Women’s diet was self-reported, while the children’s BMI was tested at one year and their infant birthweight recorded. Artificial sweetener consumption had no impact on birthweight.

Women drinking artificial sweeteners were more likely to be obese or have diabetes.

While the findings persisted after adjusting for mothers’ weight, diet, caloric intake, infant sex and breastfeeding, it is possible the results were confounded by other unhealthy lifestyle factors, the authors wrote.

The study included artificial sweeteners in soft drinks, tea and coffee.

JAMA Pediatr 2016; online 10 May

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