Doctors have been warning about the dangers of diet soda for a long time. We know consumption is linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, headaches, tooth erosion, osteoporosis and depression. Now, a new study has shown that women who drink diet soda during pregnancy are more likely to put their kids at risk of obesity.
Published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that daily diet soda consumption increased women’s risk of delivering a high birth weight baby by 60 per cent versus women who never touch the stuff. This study was also the first to follow these kids up to age seven and determined that they were almost twice as likely to be obese.
Researchers worked off the Danish National Birth Cohort involving 918 mothers who had gestational diabetes (the most common metabolic pregnancy complication that affects approximately 16 per cent of pregnancies worldwide and up to 20 per cent in Canada), and found that a total of 45 per cent of women drank diet soda during their pregnancy, nine per cent did so daily.
Study author Dr. Cuilin Zhang, a senior investigator in the epidemiology branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas are the likely culprit.
“The high-intensity artificial sweeteners may exacerbate glucose intolerance, compared to regular sugar,” she says to Global News. “This increases intestinal absorption of glucose, and promotes excessive intake and weight gain by altering the sweet taste and caloric reward.”
Interestingly, the study did not find a strong correlation between sugary sodas and childhood obesity, however previous research carried out by Zhang concluded that sugary sodas are related to increased risk of gestational diabetes, she says. This is especially poignant for Canadian women, 23.4 per cent of whom report drinking sugary sodas during their pregnancy.
For regular soda drinkers looking to take a small step towards better health, going the diet route isn’t the answer. Zhang found that switching from regular to diet actually increased the risk of kids being overweight or obese by the time they turn seven.
Any way you slice it, sodas are a bad idea, but diet sodas are definitely worse, she says.
In a 2016 study conducted by the University of Manitoba, researchers drew the same correlations between drinking artificially sweetened sodas during pregnancy and overweight children, although this study only followed kids up to their first year.
“We see the same patterns for artificially sweetened sodas and artificial sweeteners added to coffee or tea, which gives us confidence that the artificial sweeteners are responsible for the observed association,” Meghan Azad, study author and assistant professor of paediatrics and child health, says to Global News. “But I can tell you that for sugar-sweetened beverages, we found stronger associations with infant overweight for sugar-sweetened sodas versus sugar added to coffee or tea.”
She says this makes sense because the sugar content of soda is much higher than what most people would ever add to a cup of coffee, therefore infant weight would be directly correlated to sugar consumption. This differs from artificial sweeteners, which seem to affect infant weight regardless of the amount consumed.
So, what should pregnant women drink?
“Unsweetened beverages and water would be the safest option,” Azad says.
Zhang seconds that conclusion: “A per-serving-per-day substitution of artificially sweetened sodas with water was significantly associated with a 17 per cent reduced risk [of overweight babies and obese kids].”
The choice, it would seem, is quite clear.