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 women tend to increase their consumption of
To avoid extra calories,
many pregnant women 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 pregnancy 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 childhood obesity 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
In the current study,
the NICHD team limited their analysis to data from
more than 900 pregnancies that were complicated by
gestational diabetes, 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
Consuming a daily
artificially sweetened beverage appeared to offer no
advantages over consuming a daily sugar-sweetened
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
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
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 weight gain, such as breastfeeding, diet
and physical activity levels, their study couldn’t
definitively prove that maternal artificially
sweetened beverage consumption caused the children
to gain weight.
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
For more information
Maternal consumption of artificially sweetened
beverages during pregnancy, and offspring growth
through 7 years of age: a prospective cohort study.
International Journal of Epidemiology
U.S. National Institutes of Health