In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, investigators found an association between the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy and infant weight (1). The study evaluated artificially sweetened and sugar sweetened beverage consumption in 3,033 healthy, pregnant women. The weight of the infant, as measured by body mass index (BMI), was evaluated at one year of age. Almost 30% of the women consumed artificially sweetened drinks at some point during their pregnancy.
Daily consumption of artificially sweetened beverages was associated with a 2-fold higher risk of the infant being overweight by one year of age. The investigators considered factors such as the weight of the mother, the quality of her diet, the number of calories consumed and common obesity risk factors.
Although this is the first study to assess the impact of artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy and their effect on infant weight, the concept is not new. There is a growing body of evidence to support the link between artificially sweetened drinks, weight gain and even diabetes. What is really interesting about this study is that there was no association between increased infant weight and sugar sweetened drinks. This is surprising because there is a clear link between the consumption of added sugar and weight gain (2).
Despite this new research, a causal relationship has not been established. There is not enough evidence to prove that diet sodas consumed during pregnancy cause weight gain in infants. The authors concluded that further research is warranted to confirm their findings. For expecting mothers, caution should be exercised and it might be wise to avoid artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy.
Christine Dobrowolski is a nutritionist and whole-foods advocate.