Effects of Artificial Sweeteners Consumption During Pregnancy on Infant’s Weight

1579 words (6 pages) Essay in Nutrition

08/02/20 Nutrition Reference this

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Artificial sweeteners (AS) are sugar substitutes that are in diet sodas and sugar free products. There is research being done on artificial sweeteners related to weight gain. Some studies have had results suggesting that there is an association between consumption of artificial sweeteners and an increased risk of obesity. The use of artificial sweeteners has increased along with obesity.  People are consuming more artificial sweeteners to reduce calorie intake but there is still an increase in obesity in the United States. Due to the limitations of our understanding about the effects of artificial sweeteners the studies I will be addressing have results that certain AS have led to weight gain in infants and toddlers, altered sweet preferences and influences the body composition in animal models.

A cohort study conducted Zhu Y and colleagues investigated the effects of maternal consumption of artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy, and offspring growth through 7 years of age. This study compares the consumption of artificially sweetened and sugar sweetened beverages during pregnancy with regard to offspring growth and risk of obesity up to 7 years of age1.  In this study there were 918 mothers, with gestational diabetes, from the Danish National Birth Cohort. Maternal dietary intake was determined by a food frequency questionnaire1. Infants and children were weighed and measured at birth, 5 and 12 months, and at 7 years of age to determine if they were overweight or obese. The researchers reported that 45.4% of women consumed artificial sweeteners during pregnancy and about 9% consumed them daily. Over 68% of women consumed sugar-sweetened beverages and 9.2% of them consumed daily. Compared to women who did consume artificially sweetened beverages to those who did not, their offspring were large for gestational age and at risk for overweight/obesity at 7 years of age. The offspring of the women who did not consume artificially sweetened beverages had no association with an increase in birthweight or overweight/obesity. There were some limitations to the study, children’s height and weight at 7 years were reported by parents based on the measurements made by a general practitioner, parent, or school nurse. Secondly, some mothers failed to follow-up with the researchers.

Similar to the previous study Claudia Pagliari and colleagues stated that artificial sweetener consumption had increased among pregnant women and certain animal studies have proposed that artificial sweeteners may be related to offspring obesity. The purpose of this study was to determine if consuming artificial sweeteners during pregnancy correlates with infant body mass index. Participants were 3033 healthy mothers and they completed a prenatal dietary questionnaire. The average age was 32 years, and the average BMI was 24. The mean infant BMI z score at 1 year of age was 0.19 and 5.1% of infants were overweight2. Over 29% of women consumed artificially sweetened beverages and over 5% claimed daily consumption during pregnancy. The 5% of women who reported daily consumption had a 0.20-unit increase in their infants BMI z score along with the risk of the infant being overweight at one year of age2. This study did not include maternal BMI, diet quality, total energy intake, or other obesity risk factors for explanation of infant weight gain2. There was also no comparison for sugar sweetened beverages2. With the given information of the evidence that consuming artificial sweeteners during pregnancy may possibly influence infants BMI. Further research is needed to inform pregnant women with evidence-based practice to take recommendations in account for the well-being of the infant.

Unlike the two previous studies the researcher Grundt JH and colleagues conducted a pre-clinical study using rodents. The Purpose of this study is to determine the effect of chronic consumption of artificial sweeteners during pregnancy on the metabolism and feeding behavior of pups as they reach adulthood3. For the study 16 adult female Wistar rats were used. They were divided into 4 groups. The control group received water, second group received sucrose 45 g/L, third group received saccharin 1.35 g/L, and fourth group received aspartame 2g/L. The rats had free access to standard rat food, control group received water, and the other 3 groups had their solution of either saccharin, sucrose, or aspartame. Each animal consumed about 30 mL fluid per day. Male and female pups from the mothers who consumed aspartame ate more compared to the saccharin treated group. There was an increase in weight among the males whose mothers consumed aspartame and saccharin2. This study showed that the consumption of aspartame during pregnancy increases the consumption of food and weight gain. Although further research is needed, this is one of the first studies that shows possible effects of aspartame on offspring.

The following study conducted by Zhang G-H and colleagues also contained animal models. The purpose of this study was to determine if mother’s intake of the artificial sweetener acesulfame-K (AK) during pregnancy or lactation would affect her adult offspring’s sweet preference. Male and female ICR mice, albino mice, were used in this study. There were two artificial sweeteners used AK and sucrose. The mice were divided into three groups, control group received water, second group was given AK, and third group was given sucrose. The second group had both pregnant and lactating mice in which both received the AK solution. The third group had pregnant and lactating both received the sucrose solution. This study found that the artificial sweetener did influence the offspring’s sweet preference when they reached adulthood. Mice in the pregnancy group had higher sweet preferences at 0.42, 1.33, 4.21, and 13.28 concentrations of AK solution. The average increase of sweet preference for AK was 16.8%. The preference scores in the lactation exposure group were also high at 0.13, 0.42, 1.33, 4.21, and 13.28 concentrations of AK solutions than those in the control group. The increase in the preference percentage at these concentrations were 20.11%, 26.93%, 20.88%, 15.53%, and 8.91% and the average increase was 18.47%. For the group who had the sucrose solution their preference scores were also higher than that of the control group.

This next study conducted by Sebastian D. Parlee and colleagues, as well as, the two previous studies used animal models. The researchers exposed neonates to saccharin through maternal lactation to test if saccharin influence the body composition of male and female mice. Mothers were randomly assigned to saccharin or water only. Mothers who received saccharin did so with in 15 hours of giving birth5. On day 21 mice were separated and given standard westernized diet (41% fat, 43% carbohydrate, and 17% protein) for an additional 11 weeks5. The control groups contained 13 males and 12 females. The saccharin groups contained 10 males and 15 females. In order for the researchers to be able to test for the effects of saccharin they documented the growth changes in the neonates. According to their measurements there was a decrease in weight for the females in the saccharin group. At the beginning saccharin decreased the males body weight but by week 5 male weight increased. By week 14 the weights between the male mice in the control and saccharin groups did not differ. Food intake was also measured, female saccharin group consumption decreased while saccharin male group had an increase in consumption. For the determination of changes in lean and fat mass Anthropometric and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analysis was used. There was no effect of saccharin found in the female mice. The male mice who were exposed to saccharin had elevated lean mass at 8 and 13 weeks with a reduction in fat mass at 13 weeks5.

Quality of maternal dietary intake are important to the metabolic development of the infant. Early exposure to artificial sweeteners could lead to an overweight infant and early childhood obesity. These studies presented similar information; offspring has an increased risk of being overweight/obese, their sweet preference may be altered, and there may be alterations in their metabolic profile. Overall reducing sweetener intake, artificial or not, is a better approach for being overweight or obese.  Healthcare professionals who work with pregnant women, infants, and children should consider this information. Certain limitations to these studies were small research samples size, duration of study was short, and errors in measurements. Both human studies had positive outcomes but needed more detailed components of diet and accurate measurements. The animal studies had positive outcomes as well but needed a longer study duration and larger sample size. Further research is needed to inform pregnant women with evidence-based practice to take recommendations in account for the well-being of the infant.


  1. Zhu Y, Olsen SF, Mendola P, et al. Maternal consumption of artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy, and offspring growth through 7 years of age: a prospective cohort study. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2017;46(5):1499-1508.
  2. Pagliari C. Artificially Sweetened Beverage Consumption During Pregnancy and Infant Body Mass Index. JAMA Pediatrics. 2016;170(11):1116.
  3. Grundt JH, Eide GE, Brantsaeter A-L, Haugen M, Markestad T. Is consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks during pregnancy associated with birth weight? Maternal & Child Nutrition. 2016;13(4). doi:10.1111/mcn.12405.
  4. Zhang G-H, Chen M-L, Liu S-S, et al. Effects of Mothers Dietary Exposure to Acesulfame-K in Pregnancy or Lactation on the Adult Offsprings Sweet Preference. Chemical Senses. 2011;36(9):763-770.
  5. Body weight; researchers’ work from Lilly research laboratories focuses on body weight (administration of saccharin to neonatal mice influences body composition of adult males and reduces body weight of females). Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week. Nov 01 2014:1055.
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