Drinking diet beverages during pregnancy linked to child obesity, study suggests

June 6, 2017, National Institutes of Health
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Children born to women who had gestational diabetes and drank at least one artificially sweetened beverage per day during pregnancy were more likely to be overweight or obese at age 7, compared to children born to women who had gestational diabetes and drank water instead of artificially sweetened beverages, according to a study led by researchers at the National Institutes of Health. Childhood obesity is known to increase the risk for certain health problems later in life, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. The study appears online in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

According to the study authors, as the volume of amniotic fluid increases, pregnant tend to increase their consumption of fluids. To avoid extra calories, many replace sugar-sweetened soft drinks and juices with beverages containing . Citing prior research implicating artificially sweetened beverages in weight gain, the study authors sought to determine if diet beverage consumption during could influence the weight of children.

"Our findings suggest that artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy are not likely to be any better at reducing the risk for later than sugar-sweetened beverages," said the study's senior author, Cuilin Zhang, Ph.D., in the Epidemiology Branch at NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). "Not surprisingly, we also observed that children born to women who drank water instead of sweetened beverages were less likely to be obese by age 7."

The researchers analyzed data collected from 1996 to 2002 by the Danish National Birth Cohort, a long-term study of pregnancies among more than 91,000 women in Denmark. At the 25th week of pregnancy, the women completed a detailed questionnaire on the foods they ate. The study also collected data on the children's weight at birth and at 7 years old.

In the current study, the NICHD team limited their analysis to data from more than 900 pregnancies that were complicated by , a type of diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy.

Approximately 9 percent of these women reported consuming at least one artificially sweetened beverage each day. Their children were 60 percent more likely to have a high birth weight, compared to children born to women who never drank sweetened beverages. At age 7, children born to mothers who drank an artificially sweetened beverage daily were nearly twice as likely to be overweight or obese.

Consuming a daily artificially sweetened beverage appeared to offer no advantages over consuming a daily sugar-sweetened beverage. At age 7, children born to both groups were equally likely to be overweight or obese. However, women who substituted water for sweetened beverages reduced their children's obesity risk at age 7 by 17 percent.

It is not well understood why drinking artificially sweetened beverages compared to drinking water may increase obesity risk. The authors cited an animal study that associated weight gain with changes in the types of bacteria and other microbes in the digestive tract. Another animal study suggested that artificial sweeteners may increase the ability of the intestines to absorb the blood sugar glucose. Other researchers found evidence in rodents that, by stimulating taste receptors, artificial sweeteners desensitized the animals' digestive tracts, so that they felt less full after they ate and were more likely to overeat.

The authors caution that more research is necessary to confirm and expand on their current findings. Although they could account for many other factors that might influence children's , such as breastfeeding, diet and physical activity levels, their study couldn't definitively prove that maternal artificially sweetened beverage consumption caused the to gain . The authors mention specifically the need for studies that use more contemporary data, given recent upward trends in the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages. They also call for additional investigation on the effects of drinking artificially sweetened beverages among high-risk racial/ethnic groups.

Explore further: Artificially sweetened beverages consumed in pregnancy linked to increased infant BMI

More information: Yeyi Zhu 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). DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyx095

Related Stories

Artificially sweetened beverages consumed in pregnancy linked to increased infant BMI

May 9, 2016
Daily consumption of artificially sweetened beverages by women during pregnancy may be associated with increased infant body mass index (BMI) and may be associated with an increased risk of being overweight in early childhood, ...

Exchanging one sugar-sweetened soft drink or beer with water is associated with lower incidence of obesity

May 18, 2017
New research presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity shows that replacing one serving of sugar-sweetened soft drink or one beer a day with a glass of water could reduce the risk of becoming obese by 20%. The ...

Sugary drinks more affordable across the globe

May 4, 2017
(HealthDay)—Sugar-sweetened beverages have become more affordable worldwide, making the fight against obesity even more difficult, a new study suggests.

Kids' sugary drink habits start early

January 26, 2017
(HealthDay)—Despite health messages to limit sodas and other sugary beverages, most American children drink them often, new government statistics show.

New study says soft drink consumption not the major contributor to childhood obesity

June 14, 2012
Most children and youth who consume soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, such as fruit punch and lemonade, are not at any higher risk for obesity than their peers who drink healthy beverages, says a new study published ...

Recommended for you

Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health

August 17, 2018
Eating carbohydrates in moderation seems to be optimal for health and longevity, suggests new research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Phantom odors: One American in 15 smells odors that aren't there, study finds

August 16, 2018
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source. A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences ...

US drug overdose deaths surge amid fentanyl scourge

August 16, 2018
US drug overdose deaths surged to nearly 72,000 last year, as addicts increasingly turn to extremely powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as the supply of prescription painkillers has tightened.

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.

Widespread declines in life expectancy across high income countries coincide with rising young adult, midlife mortality

August 15, 2018
The ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States is a key contributor to the most recent declines in life expectancy, suggests a study published by The BMJ today.

Diets high in vegetables and fish may lower risk of multiple sclerosis

August 15, 2018
People who consume a diet high in vegetables and fish may have a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis, new research led by Curtin University has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.