Moms tend to do what they feel is best for their children, and with obesity in pregnancy linked to obese babies, many women have turned to artificial sweeteners to help keep their weight down. However, a new study has found that drinking diet drinks containing artificial sweeteners may actually increase the chances of having an obese baby.
The study comes from Meghan Azad and other researchers at the University of Manitoba in Canada. They published their results May 9th in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. With the rise in artificial sweetener use, the researchers decided to investigate whether this would affect a baby and its chances of becoming obese.
The researchers used data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study, which studied healthy pregnant women between 2009 and 2012. For the study, 3,033 mothers completed dietary assessments throughout their pregnancy, and their infants were assessed for body mass index (BMI) at one year of age.
When the researchers analyzed their data, they found that almost 30 percent of women drank artificially-sweetened beverages while pregnant, and just over five percent of them said they drank these beverages daily. Overall, just over five percent of the infants were considered overweight.
The researchers found that, compared with women who did not drink artificially-sweetened drinks, the women who drank these beverages daily had babies with a 0.2 unit higher BMI and these babies had double the risk of being overweight at one year of age. The researchers did not find a similar link between drinking beverages sweetened with sugar and having an overweight baby. The increased risk of obesity with artificial sweeteners could not be explained by other factors such as the mother’s BMI, the quality of her diet, or her energy intake.
Although the research seems to suggest that drinking artificially-sweetened beverages while pregnant increases the chance of an obese baby, the study authors warn that more research may be needed to confirm whether the sweeteners cause the obesity or if there is something else going on. The study also did not examine how these artificial sweeteners could be causing infant obesity.
Obesity is a growing problem in adults as well as children, with the number of obese children more than doubling in the past 30 years. In fact, about a third of children in developed countries are now either obese or overweight. Previous studies had suggested that a mother’s diet during pregnancy can affect metabolism and other factors related to obesity, kind of pre-programming a child for future weight gain.
With the growing obesity problem, and the link between sugar intake and obesity, many dieters and mothers-to-be have turned to drinking artificially-sweetened drinks. However, other recent studies have suggested that these sugar alternatives may actually contribute to weight gain. Although they are not sure, researchers think this may have something to do with how the artificial sweeteners affect sugar metabolism, disrupt feelings of satiety, or change gut microbes. Studies in animals have suggested that these artificial sweeteners can also affect weight gain in offspring, and previous studies in humans have suggested these artificial sweeteners can affect allergies, bone fracture, and preterm delivery.
Other studies have found a link between a child’s BMI at the age of two and their future BMI, so it seems that problems with obesity start young. If obesity can start as early as in the womb, some children may be in for a lifetime of weight struggles.
Obesity can lead to health problems for both children and adults. Being overweight increases the risk of plaque building up in arteries, causing high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Weight gain can also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, gallstones, infertility, and even certain cancers.
The current study does not definitively prove that drinking beverages sweetened with artificial sweeteners while pregnant causes obese babies. However, some mothers may choose to cut back on their diet drinks and instead focus on drinking plenty of water.