Just one more thing for pregnant woman to worry about. According to a new report published in JAMA Pediatrics, pregnant women who drink artificially sweetened beverages (like diet soda) every day have double the chance of having an overweight baby by age one.
Over 3,000 mother-child pairings were part of the study and almost 30 percent admitted to drinking an artificially sweetened beverage during pregnancy, while 5 percent said they had consumed one daily. In addition to traditional diet sodas, this also includes using sweeteners like Equal and Splenda.
While researchers didn't find a connection between sugary drinks in general and an increased body mass index (BMI) in the babies, they did find a strong link between high infant BMI and the total amount of sugar consumed during pregnancy, which leads them to believe that artificial sweeteners aren't as guilt-free as they claim to be.
Lead author Meghan B. Azad of the Univesity of Manitoba in Canada tells Reuters Health, “There’s growing evidence in adults that artificial sweeteners may have counterintuitive relations with weight gain. To our knowledge, our results provide the first human evidence that artificial sweetener consumption during pregnancy may increase the risk of early childhood overweight."
Azad does note that people who drink the most artificially sweetened beverages tend to be overweight to begin with, as well as being smokers and not breastfed as long. However, even after researchers controlled for those factors, there was a significant link between the amount of artificially sweetened beverages consumed and the baby's BMI at age one. Interestingly enough, the link was only clear with baby boys.
She also acknowledges that the study doesn't prove a definite cause and effect. “It’s not time to ban [artificial sweeteners] or tell everyone not to consume them, but it does raise a question. Given the current epidemic of childhood obesity and the widespread consumption of artificial sweeteners, further research is warranted."
Until there's further evidence otherwise, the researchers suggest that pregnant women avoid low-calorie diet drinks and anything else with artificial sweeteners.