Aspartame Use Surges in Children's Drinks

aspartame use surges

Story at-a-glance -

  • A new study shows the use of low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) in foods, beverages and packets has shot upward by 54 percent among adults and by 200 percent among children in the U.S. from 1999 to 2012
  • Twenty-five percent of U.S. children and more than 41 percent of adults report using low-calorie sweeteners regularly
  • Not only does aspartame contribute to weight gain rather than helping you lose it, there are over-the-counter and prescription drugs and other surprising products that contain it — even Pedialyte freezer pops

By Dr. Mercola

While many may think it must be a typo or at least an exaggeration, it's not: The use of low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) has skyrocketed by 200 percent in children living in the U.S. More than a few parents think it's a terrible idea for kids to be ingesting these artificial sweeteners, but 25 percent of U.S. kids do.

George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health recently reported this staggering statistic from a national survey, revealing that while the consumption of artificially sweetened foods and beverages jumped by 54 percent among U.S. adults during the study period, there was an even greater jump among kids — a 200 percent increase.1

The low-calorie sweeteners they're referring to include aspartame, sucralose and saccharin, among others, and the study took place between 1999 and 2012. Twenty-one percent of children and 41 percent of adults already reported they used these substances regularly.

Allison Sylvetsky, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington D.C., had this to say:

"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. Kids aren't alone in this trend. More adults also are taking in low-calorie sweeteners in diet soft drinks and in a variety of foods and snack items.

The findings are important, especially for children, because some studies suggest a link between low-calorie sweeteners and obesity, diabetes and other health issues."2

The National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey

According to Science Daily, this was the first study to take a look at LCS in foods, beverages and the substances in the little green, pink, yellow and blue packets you find at most lunch counters. It included the latest data for people in the U.S.

Researchers conducted the National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey (NHANES) with around 17,000 men, women and children from 2009 to 2012, comparing it to data collected from 1999 to 2008.

The study involved two interviews during which the participants relayed what they'd had to eat and drink over the previous 24 hours. At the conclusion of the study, several interesting findings were revealed:

  • Of those reporting use of LCS more than once a day, 44 percent were adults and 20 percent were children
  • Seventeen percent of adults reported having a food or beverage sweetened with LCS at least three times a day
  • As LCS use increased, body mass index (BMI) increased with it
  • Nineteen percent of obese adults used LCS three times a day or more, compared to 13 percent of normal weight adults
  • Around 70 percent of the LCS consumption took place at home, and children as young as 2 years old were also eating and drinking these products

What's Wrong With Artificial Sweeteners Like Aspartame?

It's entirely possible that aspartame, sucralose, saccharin and several other pseudo sweeteners such as acesulfame-potassium, advantame and neotame, when first developed, were meant as a good (and certainly profitable) thing — to reduce excessive sugar intake.

The trouble is, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) placed the "Safe For Human Consumption" stamp on these substances to replace sugar, the "cure" was even more toxic than the disease. Dr. Richard Hodin, a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, said:

"Sugar substitutes like aspartame are designed to promote weight loss and decrease the incidence of metabolic syndrome, but a number of clinical and epidemiologic studies have suggested that these products don't work very well and may actually make things worse."3

But one of the biggest problems with the rampant use of artificial sweeteners is that there's no scientific data to back up claims of their safety. Science Daily says "there is still no scientific consensus on the health impacts connected to low-calorie sweeteners." A PLOS Medicine study also found:

"The absence of consistent evidence to support the role of ASBs [artificially sweetened beverages] in preventing weight gain and the lack of studies on other long-term effects on health strengthen the position that ASBs should not be promoted as part of a healthy diet."4

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A 'Mountain of Research' on Aspartame Shows It's Unsafe

A blogger named Bob Livingston wrote about aspartame's elevation to most widely used artificial sweetener, sold as NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonfuls and Equal Measure. He noted:

"There is a mountain of research on the extreme danger of synthetic sugars, and I believe that there is no way to have good health while consuming sugar at the same time.

But the public has been duped into believing that consuming 'sugar-free' processed foods containing synthetic sweeteners are 'healthier choices.' They are not."5

He cited the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) approval of aspartame in 1981, based on the review by Northeastern Ohio University's Center for Behavioral Medicine and the "100 percent industry-funded research that found — naturally — that aspartame was safe."

Meanwhile, 92 percent of the independent researchers cited numerous health risks linked to its use. Livingston goes on to cite a PLOS One study that nails artificial sweeteners for their association with:

"Higher relative weight, a larger waist and a higher prevalence and incidence of abdominal obesity, suggesting that low-calorie sweetener use may not be an effective means of weight control."6

Drugs & Side Effects Database says "aspartame is a known and feared neurotoxin and carcinogen, yet it remains a common drug ingredient."7

But not only that, it's included in medications prepared for children, and the label doesn't always say so. Antibiotics to antacids to Pedialyte freezer pops contain it, and that's only a few of many.8

Experts on aspartame assert that aspartame consumption may even be a contributing factor in the skyrocketing autism rates due to methanol toxicity, because when it's heated, that's what it essentially becomes.9

WHO Threatens Regulatory Action on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Medical News Today noted a plethora of studies mentioning a strong link between sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.10

In March of 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) came out with revised guidelines for the nations of the world to "institute policies" to reduce the amount of sugar people use to less than 10 percent, and ideally less than 5 percent, of their daily caloric intake.

As a result, more than a few beverage companies around the world began burning the midnight oil, as it were, to formulate, invest in and promote sales of artificially sweetened beverages, concerned by the "threat" of regulatory action on SSBs.

A PLOS Medicine article tackled the topic because, again, there is a conspicuous absence of evidence that ASBs are a healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages, especially in the realm of weight loss.

Many ASB companies are pushing their wares for this reason, but there are no facts to back up their claims. The PLOS study asserts that:

"The promotion of ASBs must be discussed in a broader context of the additional potential impacts on health and the environment. In addition, a more robust evidence base, free of conflicts of interest, is needed."11

Some governments responded to WHO's guidelines by taxing SSB consumption. Such taxes were instituted in Mexico, France, Hungary, the U.K. and Ireland, as well as Berkley, California and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the U.S. Warning labels, advertising restrictions and sales bans in schools have also been discussed.12

The Problem With Sugar

Sugar, which is added to 75 percent of the foods and drinks processed in the U.S., has negative effects on weight gain and obesity, with consumption quadrupling since the 1950s.13 Most of it goes into:

  • Sports and energy drinks
  • Ready-to-drink coffees and teas
  • Carbonated soft drinks
  • Fruit-flavored drinks14

While sugar has long been deemed the biggest no-no on a long list of no-nos, one of the reasons was the way the food industry morphed it into high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), with multiple processes that made it doubly and triply hazardous. The Epoch Times reported:

"Once upon a time, 'sugar' meant sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets. But since 1980, soft drink producers have favored high fructose corn (HFCS) and they have been followed by most major food producers and processors.

Trade restrictions in other countries to protect local sugar production made sugar more expensive to use even as U.S. farmers were growing copious amounts of corn because of farm subsidies. HFCS is also cheaper to produce, store and ship."15

HFCS not only has a weird taste, but studies also link it to diabetes, liver damage, memory problems and, yes, obesity.16 A study at Harvard showed that men who drink sugar-sweetened sodas have a higher prevalence for coronary heart disease.17 There's even evidence it may be a vehicle for mercury contamination.18

If you know anything about genetically engineered (GE) foods, you'll find it interesting that nearly 90 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered.19 But despite the dangers of excessive intake of sugar and HFCS, artificial sweeteners are not a healthy alternative.

Aspartame Is Bad, but so Is Sucralose, aka Splenda

It doesn't take an expert to speculate why the manufacturers who gave sucralose its name made it sound as close as possible to sugar, also known as sucrose.

Consider the fact that a recent government-funded study found that 65 percent of all breast milk samples had been contaminated by sucralose and other artificial sweeteners.20 These toxins are now so widespread that even babies are being exposed, with no choice of opting out.

Another new study revealed that sucralose altered thyroid and metabolic functions in male rats, such that it "might exacerbate metabolic disorders via an adverse effect on thyroid hormone metabolism."21

Some studies claim that using artificial sweeteners in food and drinks can help people lose weight. However, other studies show just the opposite — that they actually cause people to gain weight. That might be because exposure to artificially sweetened foods may trigger a craving for more, and some even think they've saved enough calories they can have "seconds."22

Beyond this, it's known that artificial sweeteners induce "metabolic derangements" that may increase your risk of weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and more.23

If we know all these things about aspartame and sucralose, why in the world are they still on the shelves and even in medications recommended by doctors? And how can the companies that promote these products get away with saying they have zero calories, yet cause weight gain?

The terms "light" or "low-calorie" usually mean a product contains one of these artificial sweeteners, so if you see these terms on a food label, put it back on the shelf, especially if it's intended for a child.