Researchers from George Washington University found that about 25% of children and >41% of adults in America reported an intake of foods and drinks containing low-calorie sweeteners (eg, aspartame, sucralose, saccharin) in a recent nutrition survey. This reflects a 200% increase in low-calorie sweetener consumption for children and a 54% increase for adults from 1999 to 2012. 

Low-calorie sweeteners are used to substitute added sugars such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. Acesulfame-potassium, advantame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose are among the sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Stevioside and rebaudioside A, which are plant extracts, are also used as sugar substitutes.  

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The cross-sectional study examined the use of low-calorie sweeteners in foods, drinks, and packets from nearly 17,000 children and adults included in the National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey (NHANES) from 2009–2012; these findings were compared to an earlier analysis using data from 1998-–2008. Survey results from two dietary interviews provided researchers with what consumers ate or drank during a previous 24-hour period. 

Some of the major findings included:

  • 44% of adults and 20% of children who reported consuming low-calorie sweeteners had an intake more than once a day
  • 17% of adults had a food or beverage containing low-calorie sweeteners 3 times a day or more
  • The likelihood of consuming low-calorie sweeteners went up as adult body mass index went up
  • 19% of obese adults used low-calorie sweetener products 3 times a day or more vs. 13% of normal weight adults
  • About 70% of low-calorie sweetener intake happened at home; children as young as 2 years old were drinking or eating low-calorie sweetener-containing drinks and foods. 

Other findings from the study have been published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Lead author, Allison Sylvetsky, PhD, noted, “The findings are important, especially for children, because some studies suggest a link between low-calorie sweeteners and obesitydiabetes and other health issues.”

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