Maternal Consumption of Artificially Sweetened Beverages Can Lead to Infant Weight Gain

Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in the last 30 years. One third of children in developed countries are overweight or obese, putting them at a high risk for many diseases.

Now, a new study published online today suggests that childhood obesity could be influenced even before birth.

The paper, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found a direct association between frequent consumption of artificially sweetened beverages by pregnant women and the body mass index and odds of their infants being overweight at one year of age.

The study appears to be the first human evidence that maternal consumption of artificial sweeteners during pregnancy may influence infant BMI. It found consumption of artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy was associated with doubled odds of infants being overweight at one year of age.

Infant birth weight was not affected, which suggests maternal intake of artificially sweetened beverages influenced postnatal weight gain rather than fetal growth.

The study was accompanied by an editorial written by Mark Pereira, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, and Matthew Gillman, M.D., of Harvard Medical School. Pereira and Gillman caution that maternal consumption of artificially sweetened beverages might not have a direct causal link to high infant BMI. Women who frequently consumed artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy were the most likely to be overweight or obese or to have diabetes during pregnancy. Also, women with these profiles are more likely to have offspring who are at high risk for future overweight and obesity.

“I think it has more to do with the characteristics of the people who consume a lot of artificially sweetened beverages,” Pereira said. “They tend to be overweight or obese to start with, among other things.”

Pereira suggests that women who are pregnant should refrain from drinking artificially sweetened beverages because the potential health risks for mother and baby are unknown.

“We advise women to primarily consume safe drinking water for proper hydration throughout pregnancy, and avoid sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened beverages because they provide no nutrition and we are not certain of their long-term health effects for the developing fetus and newborn,” Pereira said.