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not so sweet

Artificial sweeteners may not help with weight loss, WHO advises

The World Health Organization issued new guidance warning against using artificial sweeteners to reduce body weight or the risk of noncommunicable diseases, claiming that long-term consumption is ineffective and could pose health risks, The New York Times reported. 

A systematic review of available studies suggests that using non-sugar sweeteners "does not confer any long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children," the WHO posited in its recommendation. The organization also found evidence that prolonged consumption of alternative sweeteners could increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and death in adults. 

The new guidelines apply to all individuals except those with pre-existing diabetes, and include "all synthetic and naturally occurring or modified nonnutritive 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," the WHO said.

The list of sugar substitutes includes aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and stevia. The latest recommendations contradict previous studies that said "these sweeteners don't offer any health benefits but also do not cause harm," the Times explained. 

People should consider alternatives to reducing sugar intake "such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, or unsweetened food and beverages," said Francesco Branca, the WHO director for nutrition and food safety. Non-sugar sweeteners "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."

The International Sweeteners Association, an organization representing the industry, defended low/no calorie sweeteners as "a helpful tool to manage obesity, diabetes, and dental diseases" and called the WHO's recommendation a "disservice" to consumers. The industry association "is disappointed that the WHO's conclusions are largely based on low certainty evidence from observational studies, which are at high risk of reverse causality," it said, per an emailed statement to CNN.