Study: Drinking Artificially-Sweetened Beverages During Pregnancy Boosts Child’s Obesity Risk

WASHINGTON — Drinking a Diet Sprite while you’re pregnant won’t necessarily lead to obesity for your child, but it can be a serious risk factor in some cases, a recent study finds.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that women who had gestational diabetes and drank at least one artificially-sweetened beverage a day during their pregnancy gave birth to heavier babies at a higher rate. The study also determined those babies were far more likely to be obese by the time they turn seven.

Pregnant woman
A recent study found that children born to women who had gestational diabetes and drank artificially-sweetened beverages during pregnancy were nearly twice as likely to be obese by age 7. (Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash)

The researchers analyzed more than 900 pregnant women in Denmark who suffered from gestational diabetes. Data was collected from the women throughout their pregnancies, and participants answered a health and nutrition questionnaire at 25 weeks. The researchers later collected data on birth weight of the newborns, and then again when the children reached the age of 7.

About nine percent of the women analyzed for the study said they consumed at least one artificially-sweetened beverage every day during their pregnancy. The researchers found that children born to those women were 60 percent more likely to be born heavier at birth. But the effect on a child’s weight over the years was far more worrisome.

“Our findings suggest that artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy are not likely to be any better at reducing the risk for later childhood obesity than sugar-sweetened beverages,” says senior author Dr. Cuilin Zhang in an NIH press release.

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More specifically, the authors calculated that by age seven, the children of participants who drank artificially-sweetened beverages were almost twice as likely to develop childhood obesity as those born to women who drank only water during pregnancy.

The researchers also compared obesity rates in children of mothers who drank naturally-sweetened beverages with artificially-sweetened beverages and found little difference.

While it’s still unclear why artificial sweeteners contribute to childhood obesity, some studies have found that the artificial sweetener, by stimulating taste receptors, desensitizes the digestive tract, causing overeating.

The full study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

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