WASHINGTON Jan 16 Heavy Americans who drink
diet beverages rather than those sweetened with sugar appear to
eat more, according to a study released on Thursday that raised
questions about the role lower-calorie drinks play in helping
people lose weight.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University analyzed data from a
U.S. survey of 24,000 people over a period of 10 years. People
who were overweight or obese generally consumed the same amount
of calories a day no matter what they drank, but those who chose
diet drinks got more of those calories from food.
Outside experts were quick to caution that it is not clear
what role, if any, diet drinks such as low- or no-calorie
versions of sodas, sports drinks and teas played for people who
In the study, published in the American Journal of Public
Health, overweight drinkers of diet beverages in the United
States ate 1,965 in food calories a day compared to 1,874
calories among heavy people who drank regular sugar-sweetened
Among obese diet beverage drinkers, those who consumed low-
or no-calorie drinks ate 2,058 calories a day in food versus
1,897 food calories for those who had regular drinks,
Such differences were statistically significant, they added.
Lead author Sara Bleich said the results, when paired with
other research, suggest that artificial sweeteners may affect
people's metabolism or cravings, although more study is needed.
She acknowledged that people could be deciding to eat more
since they are saving calories with their diet drinks.
"The push to diet soda may not make a lot of sense if you
are then also eating more solid food," Bleich said. "The switch
from a sugary beverage to a diet beverage should be coupled with
other changes in the diet, particularly reducing snacks."
Critics said the analysis, based on data from the National
Health and Nutrition Examination survey between 1999 and 2010,
is flawed and that it is too early to say what, if any, role the
low-calorie drinks or their artificial sweeteners play in weight
Several researchers noted that the study did not track a set
group of people over time and only looked at a 24-hour snapshot
of what any individual consumed.
The beverage industry, which has long promoted diet drinks
as an alternative to full-calorie beverages, defended such
alternatives to help manage weight.
"Losing or maintaining weight comes down to balancing the
total calories consumed with those burned through physical
activity," the American Beverage Association said in a statement
Low- or no-calories drinks contain artificial sweeteners
such as aspartame and sucralose. Many beverage companies are
also turning to other alternatives, such as the extract of
Kelly Brownell, a professor psychology and neuroscience at
Duke University and dean of its Sanford School of Public Policy,
said while the study was compelling and there are still many
questions about such sweeteners, more data is needed.
"People need to separate the biology from the psychology,"
Bonnie Liebman, the director of nutrition at the Center for
Science in the Public Interest, said while her group may have
other questions about artificial sweeteners, "it's premature to
conclude that it's something going on in your brain."
In the meantime there are other ways to watch your weight,
she said: "You're much better off with water - or coffee or tea,
if they're unsweetened."
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by David Gregorio)