July 14, 2024

New WHO Guideline Discourages Use of Non-Sugar Sweeteners for Weight Control

Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety
21 November 2022, Rome, Italy - Francesco Branca, WHO Nutrition and Food Safety (NFS) Department Director. Codex Alimentarius Commission 45th Session. Photo credit must be given: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano. Editorial use only. Copyright ©FAO.

In a new guideline released by the World Health Organization (WHO), the use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) for weight management and reduction of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) risk is discouraged. The recommendation follows a systematic review of available evidence, suggesting that NSS usage does not provide any long-term benefits in body fat reduction among adults or children. The review also raised concerns about potential adverse effects from prolonged NSS consumption, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults.

Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety, cautioned against relying on NSS for weight control. “Replacing free sugars with NSS does not help with weight control in the long term,” he said. “People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health.”

The recommendation covers synthetic and naturally occurring or modified non-nutritive sweeteners not classified as sugars found in manufactured food and beverages or sold separately for consumer use. However, it does not apply to individuals with pre-existing diabetes, personal care, and hygiene products containing NSS, or low-calorie sugars and sugar alcohols (polyols).

The WHO advised that the link between NSS and disease outcomes might be confounded by the baseline characteristics of study participants and complex patterns of NSS use. Therefore, the recommendation is conditional and may require substantive discussions in specific country contexts.

This new guideline on NSS is part of a series of existing and upcoming guidelines on healthy diets that aim to establish lifelong healthy eating habits, improve dietary quality, and decrease the risk of NCDs worldwide.

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