Sugar-sweetened drinks cause premature births

Artificial and sugar-sweetened drinks could cause babies to be born prematurely, say Scandinavian researchers.

According to a controversial new study, pregnant women are advised not to consume their daily intake of sweetened drinks despite ruling out a causal link between artificial sweeteners (AS) and preterm birth.

There are plenty of diseases in infancy and childhood such as long-term disabilities and early death that are connected with premature births.

The International Sweeteners Association (ISA) led the fight back, noting that study associations between preterm birth and low-calorie sweetener use (these include aspartame, saccharin, and Ace-K in drinks) was not statistically significant, while subjects’ dietary assessments could have been inaccurate.

The ISA said: “The possibility that the results, as in all observational studies, may be influenced by residual and unmeasured cofounding could not be ruled out”.

Although the current study adjusted data to account for some external factors, the ISA cited another study by Dekker et al (2012) to list other potential factors possibly associated with preterm pregnancy, such as low birth weight and marijuana smoking.

Eglund-Ogge’s new study is available online is slated for publication in the September issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

It uses data from the ongoing Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa), which aims to determine the causes of preterm birth by examining lifestyle habits, diet, genetic factors and infections.

From the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), Sahlgrenska University Hospital and Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg, researchers examined MoBa data drawn from three questionnaires with each being completed by 60,761 pregnant women.

During pregnancy, they answered a series of questions linked to lifestyle and diet including consumption of fizzy and non-fizzy drinks using AS and sugar (SS).

Englund-Ogge wrote: “We…found that for those women drinking more than one daily serving of sugar or artificially sweetened drinks, there was a small increased risk of preterm delivery (before week 37 in pregnancy)”.

Scientists say they were unable to identify any strong factors which explain why preterm births have occurred but did note that an association with body mass index and diet had been found.

The research team said: “The women who consumed a higher amount of sugar- and artificially sweetened drinks were more likely to have a higher body mass index, a lower education, to be daily smokers or to be single women”.

Statistical analyses adjusted for the possibility that factors more common among soft drinks consumers – smoking, young age, high BMI – could explain preterm birth, but other similar factors could be involved.

An previous Danish cohort study by Halldorsson et al. (2010) found an association between artificially sweetened (but not sugar-sweetened soft drinks) and a small increase in preterm births in both normal weight and overweight women.

The researchers wrote: “Although the Norwegian data confirmed the Danish findings regarding an association between artificially sweetened drinks and preterm delivery, we cannot at present…claim artificial sweeteners have a causal relationship to preterm birth”.

A industry source said that the Norwegian study was “bad science” and dismissed it as “data trawling” that scared people unnecessarily.

They said: “The researchers need to be careful about stating a relationship [between sweetened drinks and preterm birth] on the basis of a study of this nature. A wide range of other external factors could have accounted for these preterm births.

“Also, if you talk to any obstetrician or midwife, they will tell you that one of the biggest challenges for mums during pregnancy is excess weight and obesity, which can mean higher blood pressure, gestational diabetes”.

The source also added: “Why point the finger at foods and beverages that are safe – even sugar-sweetened beverages – as part of a balanced diet, since sugar levels in drinks are often the same as in anything else mothers are eating?

“Low-calorie beverages can help people control or maintain weight during pregnancy, which can only be a good thing”.



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