Media Release

31 March 2014

Australian beverage industry responds to Diet Drink Consumption and the Risk of Cardiovascular Events: A Report from the Women’s Health Initiative

The Australian Beverages Council, representing the Australian non-alcoholic beverage industry issued the following statement in response to Diet Drink Consumption and the Risk of Cardiovascular Events: A Report from the Women’s Health Initiative.

“This study does not provide evidence that low kilojoule sweeteners cause heart disease. It has not been peer-reviewed and therefore is flawed. The authors themselves said they cannot say that low kilojoule beverage cause these problems,” said the Council’s CEO, Geoff Parker.

Low-kilojoule sweeteners are some of the most studied and reviewed ingredients in the food supply today. Leading health organisations, such as the World Health Organization, cite smoking, overweight and obesity, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity as risk factors for heart disease and stroke.  They do not cite reduced-, low-, and no-kilojoule beverages,”said the Council’s CEO, Geoff Parker.

“Being overweight is a major cause of heart disease. These low kilojoule beverages are a safe and an effective tool in weight loss and weight management, according to decades of scientific research and regulatory agencies around the globe.

“The safety of low-kilojoule sweeteners is supported by regulatory agencies throughout the world, such as the The National Health and Medical Research Council, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), European Food Safety Authority and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as leading health groups, including the Australian Diabetes Council and Dietitians Association of Australia.

“Intense sweeteners undergo a comprehensive safety assessment before being permitted in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly researched food ingredients in use today – more than 200 studies spanning 40 years have reaffirmed its safety and benefit s as a low kilojoule sugar alternative

“Consuming low and no kilojoule beverages in moderation as part of a balanced diet supported by regular physical activity, can help with weight control,” said Mr Parker.

 Background

  • This is an abstract of an observational study that can establish only association but does not prove causality; this is confirmed by the authors themselves in the press release when they state “…so we cannot say that low kilojoule beverage cause these problems…there may be other factors about people who drink more diet drinks that could explain the connection.”
  • The abstract does not provide information on how the dietary information was obtained, but in the press release it is stated that “information was obtained through a questionnaire that asked the women to report their low kilojoule beverage consumption habits over the previous 3 months.”
  • An American College of Cardiology press release states that the “women [in this study] who consumed 2 or more low kilojoule beverages a day were younger, more likely to be smokers and had a higher prevalence of diabetes, hypertension and higher BMI.” All of these factors, together with unhealthy diets and high blood cholesterol are well known risk factors for heart disease.
  • This abstract, together with the press release, offers insufficient evidence to justify giving a negative perception about low kilojoule beverages and misinform the public. The title of the press release is “Too many Diet Drinks May Spell Heart Trouble for Older Women.”

Low kilojoule sweeteners

  • A paper published in Nutrition Bulletin also showed that “using foods and drinks sweetened with aspartame … is an effective way to maintain and lose weight without losing the palatability of the diet.”
  • A paper published in the International Journal of Obesity concluded that weight loss maintainers use a number of dietary strategies to accomplish their weight loss, including “increased consumption of artificially sweetened beverages.”
  • The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) states, ‘People wanting to eat less sugar may use intense sweeteners as a substitute… Some people with diabetes or those trying to lose weight may choose to use intense sweeteners instead of sugar; however a small amount of added sugar can be included in a healthy diet.”
  • Aspartame is one of the most widely used non-nutritive sweeteners. It has been approved for use in over 90 countries and used in over 6000 types of products and beverages worldwide. The National Health and Medical Research Council approved aspartame for use in Australia in 1986.
  • Aspartame has been declared safe by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), with the exception of people with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder that is screened for at birth. (Source: Dietitians Association of Australia website. Available at: http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/frequently-asked-questions/are-artificial-sweeteners-safe-to-eat/ Date Accessed 17/12/2012).
  • A study published this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms that diet beverages can be an important tool in helping reduce kilojoules and directly counters the assertion that drinking diet beverages causes people to eat more or to want sweet foods and beverages.
  • In 2007, an expert panel of some of the world’s leading toxicologists looked at more than 500 studies, articles and reports on aspartame’s health effects spanning the last 25 years (which also included assessments of unpublished works submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during aspartame’s regulatory approval process) and confirmed aspartame’s safety, even among its heaviest users. [Critical Reviews in Toxicology: “Aspartame: A Safety Evaluation Based on Current Use Levels, Regulations, and Toxicological and Epidemiological Studies”]
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For more information, or to arrange an interview with Geoff Parker, please contact:

Natalie Blake, 02 9286 1246/ 0421 868 384

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