New WHO guideline: Do not use sweeteners to treat obesity

For overweight treatments, many medical professionals recommend giving up sugar, especially in diabetes cases. Often, those affected turn to sweeteners.

Sweeteners and health: An overview

Does replacing sugar with sweeteners lead to weight loss?

Sugar is known to provide the body with a lot of energy and many people are often unaware of their daily sugar consumption. Hidden sugars in food are often difficult to detect. The result: too much energy intake, which then manifests itself as obesity.

Many of those affected often replace sugar with low-calorie or calorie-free sweeteners such as stevia or aspartame. Not infrequently, this is done by the advice of a physician. And indeed, in many cases, the resulting energy deficit first leads to weight loss.

Does long-term sweetener use have consequences for health?

While there may be short-term weight loss after switching from sugar to other sweeteners, long-term use of sugar substitutes does have more serious consequences, as studies have shown. For example, type 2 diabetes is more common after long-term use. Users are also more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases. This is associated with an increased mortality risk.

Increased consumption of sweeteners is also not safe for pregnant women and their unborn children. Increased intake of low-calorie sweeteners is associated with an increased risk of premature birth.

What does the WHO recommend?

In view of the evidence, the WHO has published a new guideline. The key recommendation is: sweeteners should not be used to treat obesity or to reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases. This applies to people of all ages, including children and pregnant women.

Studies did not find long-term positive results on body fat percentage when sugar was replaced by sweeteners. On the contrary, long-term consumption of sweeteners was associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Sweetener use has long-term consequences

The data included in the new WHO recommendation clearly show that long-term use of sweeteners can have unintended consequences for health. Therefore, sugar substitutes should not be used to treat obesity and prevent associated secondary diseases.