Diet drinks linked to snacking and weight gain

Researchers found that overweight adults who drank diet sodas were more likely to eat high calorie foods

Sipping on diet soft drinks is seen by many as a guilt-free indulgence, but a new study may have uncovered a link between the drinks and weight gain.

Researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US found that overweight and obese adults who drink diet soda eat food more high calorie food than those who opt for non-diet drinks.

Adults who consume diet soft drinks were found to have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) score and were more likely to snack on high calorie food than those who consumed sugary drinks.

The scientists studied 11 years’ worth of data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to map patterns of drink consumption and calorie intake.

Dr Sara Bleich, associate professor at Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management Lead, and author of the paper, said: “although overweight and obese adults who drink diet soda eat a comparable amount of total calories as heavier adults who drink sugary beverages, they consume significantly more calories from solid food at both meals and snacks.”

The study published in the ‘American Journal of Public Health’ found overweight diet-soda-drinkers ate 1,965 calories a day, compared with the 1,874 consumed by heavy people who drank regular sugar-sweetened beverages. The researchers have called this data “statistically significant”.

The American Beverage Association, the organisation which represents the interests of non-alcoholic drinks companies, said in a statement: "Losing or maintaining weight comes down to balancing the total calories consumed with those burned through physical activity."

Critics also said the analysis, based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey between 1999 and 2010, is flawed and that it is too early to say what, if any, role the low-calorie drinks or their artificial sweeteners play in weight loss.

Bonnie Liebman, the director of nutrition at the US Center for Science in the Public Interest, said “you're much better off with water - or coffee or tea, if they're unsweetened.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

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