The consumption of low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin has seen a whopping 200 percent rise among US children, putting them at the risk of obesity, diabetes and related issues.
About 25 percent of children and more than 41 percent of adults reported consuming foods and beverages containing low-calorie sweeteners in a recent nationwide nutritional survey -- representing a 200 percent increase in LCS consumption for children and a 54 percent jump for adults from 1999 to 2012.
"Just 8.7 percent of kids reported consuming low-calorie sweeteners in 1999 and 13 years later, that number had risen to 25.1 percent. More adults are also taking in low-calorie sweeteners in diet soft drinks and in a variety of foods and snack items," said Allison Sylvetsky, assistant professor at the George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health.
Low-calorie sweeteners are often used in place of added sugars such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup.
To reach this conclusion, the researchers conducted a cross sectional study using data from nearly 17,000 men, women and children included in the National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey (NHANES) from 2009 to 2012 and compared the findings to their prior analysis using data from 1999-2008.
"Of those reporting consumption of low-calorie sweeteners, 44 percent of adults and 20 percent of children consumed low-calorie sweeteners more than once a day," the study noted.
Seventeen percent of adults had a food or beverage sweetened with these products three times a day or more.
The likelihood of consuming low-calorie sweeteners went up as adult body mass index (BMI), a measure of obesity, went up. Nineteen percent of adults with obesity compared to 13 percent of normal weight adults used LCS products three times a day or more.
About 70 percent of LCS consumption occurred at home and the study, which appeared in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, shows that children as young as two are eating or drinking LCS-sweetened foods and beverages.
The findings suggest that parents may not realise the term "light" or "no added sugar" may mean that a product contains a low-calorie sweetener. "Parents may be buying the light versions of the family favourites thinking they are healthier," Sylvetsky added.