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Studies funded by artificial sweetener companies were 17 times more likely to find that artificial sweeteners have beneficial effects.

Stashed in: Awesome, Nutrition!, Sugar, Sugar Shack, Food Industry, Diet Soda, Cognitive Bias

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This research comes after documents released earlier this month revealed the sugar industry paid off scientists in the 1960s and 70s to downplay sugars role in obesity and focus on saturated fat instead. 

We examined reviews of studies on the beneficial effects of artificial sweeteners on weight loss and reviews that looked at potentially harmful effects, such as diabetes. We identified 31 relevant reviews and found that reviews funded by artificial sweetener companies were about 17 times more likely to have results that favor artificial sweeteners. This is significant as the data found in these studies is used to develop dietary guidelines. These studies were also likely to have more favorable conclusions than those that were independently funded.

Four reviews we looked at were funded by “competitor companies” that marketed sugary drinks or water, with all four of these reviews having conclusions that did not favor artificial sweeteners. This demonstrates that it is important to be critical of reviews that are funded by any food or beverage related industry, not just the artificial sweetener or sugar industry. Additionally, about one third of the reviews did not even disclose their funding sources, so transparency around author conflict of interest and research funding sources for this area of nutrition research is lagging behind other fields.

When we assessed the quality of the reviews, we found that there was no difference in quality related to funding source. This means that the differences in conclusions and results cannot be captured by the standard tools used to assess quality of reviews, but are likely due to subtle differences in inclusion of data or the interpretation of results.

Sugar substitutes…

  • Are NOT associated with weight loss or weight management
  • ARE associated with blood sugar irregularities
  • Consumption claims range from dermatological problems, headaches, mood variations, behavior changes, respiratory difficulties, seizures and even cancer though research is inconclusive
  • ARE food additives that sweeten food and beverages with a flavor similar to sugar only they contain less calories per gram – some sugar substitutes are natural (“natural sweeteners”) and some are synthetic
  • Have shown increased weight gain and obesity associated with increased use of diet soda
  • Studies indicate that artificial sweeteners specifically can cause weigh gain
  • May have a relationship between artificial sweeteners and allergies including dermatological problems, headaches, mood variations, behavior changes, respiratory difficulties, seizures and cancer
  • Release insulin is in effort to balance the body’s natural blood sugar levels – because there is no actual sugar consumed, blood sugar levels become imbalanced, leading to problems with blood sugar irregularities such as hypoglycemia, a precursor to diabetes.


Top Reddit comment:

This is one of the many reasons why it's always important to examine the methodology of a study as well as its peer review. Conclusions alone are not enough.

Science funded by interested parties isn't necessarily a bad thing--I think we'd actually be screwed for funding without it--but it absolutely does call for further scrutiny when results appear aligned with the sponsor's interests.

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