Heavy Americans who drink
diet beverages rather than those sweetened with sugar appear to eat more,
according to a study that raised questions about the role
lower-calorie drinks play in helping people lose weight.
Researchers at Johns
Hopkins University analysed data from a US 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 ate
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 beverages.
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.
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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
She acknowledged that
people could be deciding to eat more since they are saving calories with their
"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 loss.
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.
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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
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
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