Over the past few decades, one such trend has been the increased use of artificial sweeteners, especially in diet sodas, sports drinks and other beverages.
According to new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, diet soda intake is linked to escalating abdominal obesity.1 The research suggests that regular diet soda consumption can increase one’s risk of cardiovascular diseases with aging.
Research and Findings
The research was part of the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging (SALSA) and focused on 749 participants aged 65 or older at baseline. SALSA is a biethnic study, and all participants were Mexican-American or European-American individuals.1 The baseline was established between 1992 and 1996, which was followed by an initial follow-up session in 2000 and 2001. Of the initial participant group, 474 survived for the first follow-up, 413 completed the second follow-up in 2001-2003, and 375 completed a third follow-up in 2003-2004.1
Diet soda intake, waist circumference, weight and height were all measured both at baseline and during each follow-up. The findings suggest the increase in waist circumference among diet soda drinkers was about triple that of nonusers per follow-up period.1
This led researchers to the conclusion that diet soda consumption is directly linked to abdominal obesity and can lead to poor long-term health in an aging population, specifically contributing to cardiovascular diseases and metabolic syndrome.1
The study’s lead author, Sharon Fowler, MPH, explained, “Our study seeks to fill the age gap by exploring the adverse health effects of diet soda intake in individuals 65 years of age and older. The burden of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, along with healthcare costs, is great in the ever-increasing senior population.”2
While SALSA provides compelling evidence that diet soda is connected to abdominal obesity, critics have noted several shortcomings of the study. Forbes points out that the study did not adjust for calorie intake and also that the sample size is rather small.3 A similar study would need to be conducted on a much larger scale to confirm these findings.
The Calorie Control Council went as far as to put together a press release questioning the study’s findings.4 The CCC notes that men and women typically have some increase in abdominal fat with age and that the study only reveals a possible association rather than cause and effect.
The CCC further cited previous studies that hold contrary evidence, including recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that suggests artificial sweeteners are associated with lower body weight, waist circumference and body mass index.4
For the time being, the exact health effects of diet soda are yet to be determined, but consumers should exercise moderation and enjoy these beverages with caution. Medical professionals agree that a nutritious diet and regular exercise are essential to long-term health.
1 “Diet Soda Intake Is Associated with Long-Term Increases inWaist Circumference in a Biethnic Cohort of Older Adults: TheSan Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging,” by Sharon P.G. Fowler, MPH, Ken Williams, MS and Helen P. Hazuda, PhD, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, March 2015. http://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1111%2Fjgs.13376?r3_referer=wol&tracking_action=preview_click&show_checkout=1&purchase_referrer=onlinelibrary.wiley.com&purchase_site_license=LICENSE_DENIED_NO_CUSTOMER
2 “Diet soda linked to increases in belly fat in older adults,” EurekAlert, March 17, 2015. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/w-dsl031315.php
3 “Study Suggests Diet Soda May Lead To Belly Fat. Critics Aren’t So Sure.,” by Alice Walton, Forbes, March 17, 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/03/17/is-there-really-a-link-between-diet-soda-and-belly-fat/
4“Results of Study on Diet Sodas and Older Adults Should be Treated with Caution Due to Study Limitations,” Calorie Control Council, March 17, 2015. http://www.caloriecontrol.org/pressrelease/results-of-study-on-diet-sodas-treat-with-caution-due-to-study-limitations