WHO Guideline on Non-Sugar Sweeteners: Impact on Body Weight and NCDs

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a crucial guideline on non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), advocating against their use as a means to manage body weight or mitigate the risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

This recommendation is grounded in a systematic review of available evidence, which indicates that the utilization of NSS does not yield long-term benefits in reducing body fat in both adults and children. Moreover, the review findings suggest potential adverse effects stemming from prolonged NSS use, including an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults.

Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety, emphasizes, “Replacing free sugars with NSS does not aid in long-term weight control. Individuals should explore alternative methods to reduce free sugar intake, such as opting for naturally occurring sugars in foods like fruits or choosing unsweetened food and beverages. NSS lack essential dietary value, and the overall sweetness in one’s diet should be reduced, starting from an early age, for better health.”

This recommendation extends to all individuals, excluding those with pre-existing diabetes, and encompasses both synthetic and naturally occurring or modified non-nutritive sweeteners not classified as sugars. These sweeteners are typically found in processed foods and beverages or offered separately for consumer inclusion. Common NSS varieties include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, and stevia derivatives.

It’s essential to note that this recommendation excludes personal care and hygiene products containing NSS, like toothpaste, skincare items, and medications. Similarly, low-calorie sugars and sugar alcohols (polyols), which possess caloric content and are distinct from NSS, do not fall under this guideline.

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Because the observed link between NSS and disease outcomes in the evidence might be influenced by participants’ baseline characteristics and complex NSS usage patterns, the recommendation is considered conditional, following WHO guideline development processes. This implies that policy decisions based on this recommendation may necessitate substantial discussions in specific national contexts, particularly concerning consumption patterns in different age groups.

The WHO’s guideline on NSS is part of a comprehensive suite of existing and upcoming guidelines on healthy diets. These guidelines aim to promote lifelong healthy eating habits, enhance dietary quality, and diminish the global burden of NCDs.

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