Childhood Obesity Statistics: Blame Artificial Sweeteners

I know I’ve written frequently on childhood obesity statistics lately, but are you really paying attention to everything your child is putting in their mouth?

You’ve banned artificial sweeteners. No more diet soda. You read one of my blog posts on just how unhealthy artificial sweeteners are, and you instantly tossed what you had in the house into the garbage. You’ve scrapped the plastic water bottles and cheap soup cans to ban BPA as well.

You’ve even searched out the labels where artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) lurks; some juices, “energy” drinks, even drink “enhancers” like Mio. You’ve vowed to not use any of the Nuun Active Hydration during your Susan Komen 3-day hike because of the acesulfame potassium. You’ve told your primary care doctor that Medifast is not going to help you lose weight in the long run.

Your family is all set and your children are happily chewing their gum in the back seat, artificial sweetener free.

Wait…chewing gum?

You slam on the brakes as you pull the car to the side of the road and demand to see the pack of Trident that your son is chewing from.

You guessed it. Almost every major brand of gum available now has artificial sweeteners in it. Actually, most seem to have multiple types (Yes-that Trident sugarless gum has acesulfame potassium AND aspartame in addition to the naturally occurring sugar alcohol sorbitol–apparently Trident couldn’t decide just which sweetener it was going to use so it through them all in…).

But it’s just a little amount.

That’s what I hear. It’s just a little. Or it’s just one can of diet soda per day. Or just a few pieces of gum per day. I remember hearing one distributor for a direct marketing “health” company stating that the sucralose in their drink was “just a little.”

Make no mistake–“just a little” is enough for us to taste or it wouldn’t be in there.

Which brings us to this particular article.

Researchers looked at a group of obese children aged 6-18 and compared them to a similar group of normal weight children. They were specifically looking to see if there was a difference in the taste sensations between the two groups. There findings give us some insight into the problems our children are facing:

  1. Obese children were less able to identify salty, bitter and umami (savory) tastes.
  2. Obese kids rated 3 of 4 test strips (with increasing sweet concentrations) as being less sweet.
  3. The greatest difference was in the lowest concentration of “sweet.”
  4. Only at the sweetest concentration did the two groups of children agree on the degree of sweetness.
  5. Overall, girls and older kids were better at picking out the right tastes.

Basically, the obese children seemed less sensitive to “sweet” until the concentration became strong. To me, this would seem to identify a type of tolerance for sweet sensations, much like a drug.

Giving our children sweet this and sweet that, including artificial sweeteners with sensations 1,000 times stronger than table sugar will do nothing but cause problems. I remain very strong of the opinion that giving artificial sweeteners to our children AT ALL, at any age, begins to disassociate taste from our body and brain’s response to sweet. This process can only lead contribute to the worsening childhood obesity statistics as time goes on.

If your child is already stuck in this loop, the first step is to cut out any and ALL artificial sweeteners.   Today. If your family chews gum, switch to a xylitol based gum.

From there, begin to cut back on the “sweet” that they are exposed to. That could mean smaller serving sizes. We have frozen yogurt stores here in Arizona that sell by the ounce–you basically fill up as much as you’d like and then top it off with the selections such as bad stuff, fruit and nuts. I can tell you that, for 4 of us, we frequently pay just a little more than most of the cups that get filled and dropped on the scale. Do you really need to fill the whole thing?

You can also begin to substitute unsweetened items for the sugary stuff. If they can’t drink tea without a 50:50 sugar:tea mix, begin to gradually cut back on the amount of sugar being added until it’s gone. And do you really need the largest size Starbucks with whipped cream?

What have you done to cut back on your child’s “sweet” intake?

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.