WHO Advises Not to Use Artificial Sweeteners for Weight Control
Wednesday, May 24th, 2023
WHO advises not to use non-sugar / artificial sweeteners for weight control in newly released guideline, warns that continued consumption could increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and mortality in adults.
Non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), also known as artificial sweeteners, are commonly used as an alternative to sugar for these two reasons:
- Controlling body weight, and
- Reducing the risk of noncommunicable diseases (chronic illnesses that are due to genetics or lifestyle choices, and are not spread via infections).
However, WHO revealed earlier this month that continued consumption of artificial sweeteners does not help with weight loss. In addition, it could even increase health risks. This assessment does not apply to people with pre-existing diabetes. It also does not extend to health, beauty and hygiene products that include artificial sugars such as toothpaste, skin creams and medications. It also does not include low-calorie sugars and sugar alcohols, which are derived from sugar.
“Replacing free sugars with NSS does not help with weight control in the long term. People need to consider other ways to reduce free sugars intake, such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, or unsweetened food and beverages,” says Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety. “NSS are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value. People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health.”
This recommendation for artificial sweeteners applies to all except individuals with pre-existing diabetes. It includes all synthetic and naturally occurring or modified non-nutritive sweeteners that are not classified as sugars found in manufactured foods and beverages, or sold on their own to be added to foods and beverages by consumers.
Some of the more commonly known artificial sweeteners include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia and stevia derivatives.
As a disclaimer, WHO labels this latest recommendation as conditional. This is because the link observed between consumption of artificial sweeteners and their effects on health can be made complicated by factors such as the baseline characteristics of the study participants and the complex patterns of NSS use. This means that authorities and organisations should review their policies on NSS after careful consideration of contexts such as a population’s needs and the age groups of those who would be affected.
The International Sweeteners Association, a nonprofit organisation that represents the industry, has hit back at WHO. In a detailed ‘Critical Appraisal‘, the Association said that WHO’s recommendation confuses individuals who are living with diabetes. It also calls out the WHO for being weak in its stance by saying that this recommendation is conditional.
In its concluding remarks, the Association states:
“The benefits of low/no calorie sweeteners when used in place of sugars are supported by a wealth of well conducted, acute, short- and longer-term randomised controlled trials in humans, which provide high quality evidence. Failing to consider the collective evidence on the health effects of non-sugar sweeteners and to accurately translate the totality of available evidence into a recommendation in view of the hierarchy of scientific evidence, may hinder public health efforts to reduce excess sugars intake and to tackle obesity.”
As nutritional research is constantly evolving, there will be more accurate findings on artificial sweeteners that are supported by stronger data in time to come.
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