Maternal consumption of artificial sweeteners in diet soda during pregnancy may influence childhood obesity.
It is common for expectant mothers to worry about what is safe to eat and drink during pregnancy. Artificial non-caloric sweeteners are often used to replace sugar in food and drinks. Consumption of artificially sweetened beverages are prevalent worldwide, particularly in pregnancy as women regularly use diet sodas to avoid extra calories. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved six artificial sweeteners for use in foods and beverages: acesulfame potassium, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, neotame, and advantame. The overall effects of these sweeteners on pregnant women and unborn children are unknown.
Moderate consumption of diet soda in pregnancy may be tolerable, although added sugar intake is strongly associated with obesity. Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) that is too high and unhealthy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects one in six children and adolescents in the United States.
Childhood obesity increases the risk of health problems in adulthood, such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and some cancers. Consumption of diet soda is also linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, teeth erosion, headaches, osteoporosis, and depression.
Diet soda has negative effects on the mother
Drinking diet soda may lead expectant mothers to have surplus weight gain and gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Excessive pregnancy weight gain increases the chances of delivering children via a cesarean section. Gestational diabetes is the most common metabolic pregnancy complication that impacts 16% of pregnancies globally.
A study published in International Journal of Epidemiology attributes the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas to gestational diabetes to a certain extent. A study author, Dr Cuilin Zhang, stated, “The high-intensity artificial sweeteners may exacerbate glucose intolerance, compared to regular sugar. This increases intestinal absorption of glucose, and promotes excessive intake and weight gain by altering the sweet taste and caloric reward.”
This study carried out a follow-up of the children until they were seven years old and revealed that they were twice as likely to be obese compared to children whose mothers had gestational diabetes but did not drink diet soda during pregnancy.
Additionally, many soft drinks contain high levels of caffeine. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend pregnant women to limit their caffeine consumption to less than 200 milligrams per day.
Consuming soft drinks in pregnancy can lead to childhood obesity
Consumption of soft drinks during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm delivery, as well as children born with high birth weight. In fact, women who consumed diet soda are 60% more likely to have babies with a high birth weight in comparison to women who had no soft drink intake during pregnancy.
A study in JAMA Pediatrics established that sweetened beverage consumption during pregnancy influences infant weight gain and early childhood obesity. The analysis involved 2,413 expectant mothers and found that 30% had consumed artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy and 5% reported daily consumption of these drinks.
The researchers observed that pregnant women who drank sweetened beverages compared to water had a doubled risk of having babies who were overweight at one years old. This conclusion was not able to be explained by the mother’s BMI, diet, total energy intake, physical activity levels, or other obesity risk factors.
Dr Meghan Azad, lead author of the research paper, stated, “We provide human evidence that artificial sweetener consumption during pregnancy may increase the risk of early childhood obesity.” This is particularly important “given the current epidemic of childhood obesity and the widespread consumption of artificial sweeteners.”
Drinking artificially sweetened drinks during pregnancy can result in obesity-related conditions
In addition to obesity, soda consumption is associated with smoking and poor diet quality, which further increases the likelihood of obesity.
Other evidence implies that artificial sweetener consumption in pregnancy increases the chances of developing conditions related to obesity, including type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. For this reason, there may be a disruption in how the body processes glucose or in the way in which gut bacteria helps with metabolism.
The negative relationship between diet soda and pregnancy requires further exploration. It is safest to limit consumption of sweetened beverages during pregnancy to prevent any risk to the mother or the baby. It is crucial to drink lots of water and stay hydrated during pregnancy, in addition to eating a well-balanced, low-fat diet that is high in protein.
Written by Albina Babu, MSc
Keyword: diet soda and pregnancy
Other keyword tags: artificial sweeteners, childhood obesity, body mass index, type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, metabolic syndrome, overweight
Zhu, Y., et al. (2017). Maternal consumption of artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy, and offspring growth through 7 years of age: a prospective cohort study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 46(5), pp.1499-1508. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5837735/
Azad, M.B., et al. (2016). Association between artificially sweetened beverage consumption during pregnancy and infant body mass index. JAMA Pediatrics, 170(7), pp.662-670. Retrieved from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2521471
Overweight & Obesity: Children (2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/
Should pregnant women stop drinking diet soda? (2017). Global News. Retrieved from: https://globalnews.ca/news/3523742/should-pregnant-women-stop-drinking-diet-soda/
Could diet soda during pregnancy mean an overweight child later? (2017). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from: https://newsroom.clevelandclinic.org/2017/08/02/study-diet-soda-during-pregnancy-could-mean-an-overweight-child-later-2/
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