The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against the long-term use of artificial sweeteners for weight management and reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases. The WHO recommends that even adults should avoid consuming them, as continued consumption could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and adult mortality. The warning applies to all synthetic and natural or modified sugars intended for pre-existing diabetes and not classified as sugars in manufactured foods or beverages, including non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and stevia.
According to Stephanie McBurnett, R.D.N. and nutrition educator at the Physicians Commission for Responsible Medicine, nutrition research is constantly evolving, and stronger data update research findings. While non-nutritive sweeteners have previously been thought to offer no health benefits but cause no harm, the WHO’s statement contradicts this. Critics of the recommendations say the sweeteners can help manage obesity, diabetes, and dental disease, and offer consumers alternatives to reduce sugar and calorie intake.
WHO recommendations do not directly influence national policies, although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may take the WHO’s guidance into account. There is no obligation to do so, and the FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The International Sweeteners Association said the recommendations were to the detriment of consumers, adding that non-nutritive sweeteners are among the most thoroughly researched ingredients in the world.
The WHO recommends consuming unsweetened foods and beverages that do not contain free sugars, instead of using sweeteners. According to the WHO’s Director of Nutrition and Food Safety, Francesco Branca, non-sugar sweeteners “are not an essential dietary component and have no nutritional value. People should completely reduce sweeteners in their diets early in life to improve their health”.