Are Artificial Sweeteners Suitable for Children?

It's important to limit synthetic sweeteners for children because, though they're safe, we're still not clear on their health effects.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Suitable for Children?

Last update: 03 December, 2020

Excess weight and obesity in children are an epidemic. As a result, artificial sweeteners are replacing more and more sugar in children’s diets. But are synthetic sweeteners really suitable for children?

Artificial sweeteners for children

For years, we’ve been using “low” or no-calorie sweeteners as substitutes for all or part of the sugar content in foods and beverages. And in recent decades, their consumption has increased in both adults and young people.

Experts have linked their use to dietary alternatives in weight control or diabetes and also the prevention of cavities. However, some studies question these possible benefits, in adults and children alike.

Artificial sweeteners for children and their relationship to health

Weight

Many think that sweeteners help with weight loss. And yes, it’s true that they have fewer calories than sugar. But even so, they don’t always help us lose weight or reduce the risk of diabetes.

A small child staring at a pile of sugar cubes next to a glass of coke.

Some observational studies have linked the increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) with the consumption of heat-enhancing sweeteners. However, we shouldn’t interpret these data as proof of causality. Rather, we should interpret them as evidence of the increased likelihood of consumption among those with obesity and sedentary lifestyles.

The substitution of sugar by sweeteners doesn’t necessarily imply a lower overall caloric intake. What’s more, it could induce unbalanced eating behaviors with high consumption of sweetened and low-calorie products.

Glucose intolerance

The body reacts to these synthetic sweeteners differently than it does to sugar. That’s because they can have effects on glucose metabolism, intestinal microbiota, and appetite control Therefore, they can also have negative effects on children.

Intake of sweeteners and sugar may induce a neural response that conditions faster absorption of sugars. This, at the same time, increases the secretion of glucagon-related peptides, or insulin. Thus, glucose intolerance may develop through changes in the intestinal microbiota.

Dental damage

In the child population, in addition to fluoride deficiency, cavities are still frequent. After the ingestion of sweet foods, there’s usually no adequate oral hygiene. At the same time, in infants, the prolonged consumption of juices or other fructose or sucrose-rich drinks in their bottle increases the risk of dental damage.

Among the sweeteners, polyalcoholic sugars or sucralose, among others, have been declared as having healthy properties to avoid this pathology.

Artificial sweeteners for children: Consumption recommendations

Referring to children, the American Dietetic Association stated that artificial sweeteners are safe to use within the Recommended Daily Intake range. The American Academy of Pediatrics stated that the study of artificial sweeteners for use in children has been inadequate. Therefore, they shouldn’t form a significant part of the diet.

A variety of natural and synthetic sweeteners.

According to the Nutrition Committee of the Spanish Pediatric Society, companies can’t use them in baby formulas, follow-up formulas, cereals, baby foods, or in dietary foods for young children for special medical uses, except when expressly indicated. At later ages, it’s important to limit products such as soft drinks, fruit juices, or dairy products that are sugary or sweetened.

The committee also states that artificial sweeteners are safe in the general population, including pregnant women. However, children should only consume these types of additives as an alternative when other forms of obesity prevention aren’t sufficient.

Finally, the committee points out that the consumption of sweeteners within a moderate and balanced diet can help limit the consumption of refined sugar. At the same time, they contribute to the prevention of diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Conclusion

As we’ve seen, according to studies and recommendations from experts, sweeteners can modify certain physiological mechanisms in both children and adults.

However, since there are no conclusive studies, it’s better to consume them in moderation and not regularly as a sugar substitute. The best option is for our children to consume food naturally from an early age, so that they get used to its natural flavor.

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