The Canadian Beverage Association (CBA) has criticised research that linked artificial sweeteners to obesity, saying the findings were invalid.
The research, from scientists at the University of Manitoba, was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. It reviewed 37 different studies involving more than 400,000 participants, assessing the impact that ‘non-nutritive sweeteners’ had on a subject’s body mass index.
But only seven of the studies were randomised controlled trials – considered a more reliable form of scientific research, where a set of behaviours in one group of subjects is compared against that of a control group.
The seven trials failed to provide evidence that artificial sweeteners made people obese.
But using long-term observational studies, the researchers concluded that sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame and stevia – which are increasingly used as an alternative to sugar in low-calorie and diet drinks – could increase the chance of obesity, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems later in life.
The authors of the study admitted that ‘further research is needed to fully characterise the long-term risks and benefits of non-nutritive sweeteners’.
But the CBA, which represents the country’s soft drink manufacturers and distributors, argued that the study was misleading and invalid.
“Low- and no-calorie sweeteners are among some of the most exhaustively researched ingredients in the world,” a spokesperson for the CBA said in a statement.
“They have been approved as safe for consumption by authoritative government regulatory agencies around the world, including Health Canada, the United States Food and Drug Administration, the European Food Safety Authority, and the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the World Health Organization.
“Nothing in this study shows otherwise, and the study itself provides conflicting evidence, which raises questions about the validity of the researchers’ conclusions. In fact, there is a substantial body of evidence from other researchers that low-calorie sweeteners are an effective tool to help people lose and manage weight.”
Soda makers like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple have invested in zero-sugar lines for several years in an attempt to shift consumer habits away from sugary drinks.
Coca-Cola has invested in an overhaul of its sugar-free portfolio, and PepsiCO CEO Indra Nooyi has vowed to move the focus away from fizzy drinks – already less than 25% of group revenue.
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