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News Article

Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Cancer in Humans

By Miriam Bello | Wed, 03/30/2022 - 15:42

A study by researchers from the University of Paris found a link between artificial sweeteners and cancer. Artificial sweeteners are found in a wide range of foods and beverages as a sugar substitute.

The “Artificial sweeteners and cancer risk: Results from the NutriNet-Santé population-based cohort study,” carried out between 2009 and 2021, found a positive association between higher intake of artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame and acesulfame-K) and overall cancer risk. More specifically, aspartame intake was associated with increased breast and obesity-related cancers.

Artificial sweeteners are commonly used by the food and beverages industry to replace sugar and intensify flavors. These sweeteners purportedly aim to reduce the common problems associated with a high consumption of sugars, which include weight gain, cardiometabolic disorders and cavities, among others. As their use increases, the consumption of artificial sweeteners by the population only increases, according to the study.

While artificial sweeteners were purportedly developed as a sugar alternative to reduce obesity and its related diseases, their consumption has been linked with increased caloric consumption and weight gain. Obesity is linked to the development of chronic diseases, especially diabetes and obesity, depression, dental cavities and malnutrition, among other diseases. Obesity also poses a significant burden to the healthcare system. In Mexico, the social costs of this disease amount to over MX$85 billion (US$4.3 billion) a year. Of this figure, 73 percent corresponds to expenses for medical treatment, 15 percent to income losses due to work absenteeism and 12 percent to income losses due to premature mortality.

Measures to Reduce Obesity in Mexico

Due to its high impact on the Mexican health system and on the social development of the population, obesity has been addressed through a series of politics in Mexico that specifically target the food and beverages industry. The OECD has even recognized Mexico’s efforts to address this problem by introducing taxes on sugary drinks and non-essential high-calorie foods and mandating special labels for prepackaged food and beverages.

Food and beverages labels warn of the presence of excess sugars and artificial sweeteners so consumers are well informed. Mexico also introduced special regulations to reduce the consumption of sugar by children. NOM 051 prohibits packaging from containing images from children's cartoons, photos of celebrities or interactive elements that aim to encourage children to consume a product. The goal of these actions is to help consumers and parents to make an informed decision when purchasing products.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst