The children of pregnant women who drink artifically sweetened drinks are more likely to be obese

01 August 2017
pregnant woman preparing food with artificially sweetened drink in the foreground

A new study shows that the children of women with gestational diabetes who drank at least one artificially sweetened beverage during pregnancy were more likely to be overweight or obese at age seven.

The research from the National Institutes of Health was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and aimed to identify whether diet beverage consumption during pregnancy could influence the weight of children. 

According to lead researcher, Dr Cuilin Zhang as the volume of amniotic fluid increases, pregnant women tend to increase their consumption of fluids.

He says to avoid extra calories, many pregnant women replace sugar-sweetened soft drinks and juices with beverages containing artificial sweeteners.

“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,” he says.

He adds, “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 analysed 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. The study also collected data on the children’s weight at birth and at 7 years old.

In the current study, the researchers 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.

The children of these women who consumed at least one artificially sweetened beverage each day were:

  • 60% more likely to have a high birth weight
  • Twice as likely to be overweight or obese at age 7.

The researchers say consuming a daily artificially sweetened beverage appeared to offer no advantages over consuming a daily sugar-sweetened beverage. 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%.

Researchers say it is not well understood why drinking artificially sweetened beverages compared to drinking water may increase obesity risk.

The authors cite 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 sugar glucose.

The authors caution that more research is necessary to confirm and expand on their current findings.

You can read the full study looking at the impact on offspring of drinking artificially sweetened drinks in pregnancy here.