Data from the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions show that diet soda may actually contribute to weight gain–especially around the stomach–and the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks may also possibly contribute to metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. Here are the data the studies revealed:
Diet Soda Weight Gain and Stomach Fat
In a study done at the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, researchers reviewed aggregate data from almost 475 older adults. All participants saw their waistlines expand; however, those who reported drinking diet soda had 70 percent greater increases in the measurements of their stomachs compared to participants who did not consume diet drinks.
Those participants who drank two or more diet sodas a day saw an increase in their waists of 500 percent more than non-drinkers of diet soda. Researchers reported their results were adjusted for other contributing factors like age, activity level and diabetes, says Meredith Melnick in the Time article “Studies: Why Diet Sodas Are No Benefit to Dieters.” The study was done over a period of 9.5 years.
In another study presented at the American Diabetes Association, says Melnick, health researchers found a relationship between aspartame and elevated fasting glucose levels in mice. High fasting glucose levels are an indication of diabetic or pre-diabetic condition, and aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in several diet drinks and sodas.
Diet Drinks and Metabolic Syndrome
According to the American Diabetes Association article “Diet Soda Linked to Higher Health Risks,” drinking diet soda has been linked to metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a condition characterized by a group of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. The risk factors include high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, abnormal cholesterol levels and excess fat around the waist. Having just one of these symptoms does not necessarily mean a person suffers from metabolic syndrome; however, the risk increases when two or more of these symptoms are present.
A study that included more than 6,800 adults of diverse ethnic backgrounds who were participating in a heart disease study, says the American Diabetes Association, showed that diet soda drinkers gained more fat in their stomachs. The researchers asked participants how often they drank diet soda, and then they followed up three times with lab tests over a five year period to see which participants developed diabetes or metabolic syndrome. They also conducted statistical tests for links between drinking diet soda and risk factors.
The research showed that people who drank diet sodas at least once a day had a 36 percent higher chance of having a higher waist measurement and higher blood glucose levels; both of these conditions put people at greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Limitations of Diet Soda Studies
The American Diabetes Association states people who are believed to suffer from diet soda weight gain may have other diet and lifestyle behaviors that could affect their development of metabolic syndrome. Also the consumption of diet soda was self-reported, so study results may or may not have been accurate. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the implications of the research suggest that drinking diet soda regularly may lead to gaining extra pounds—especially in the stomach area and problems processing glucose in the body, which increases the risk factors for metabolic syndrome and eventual diabetes.
“Diet Soda Linked to Higher Health Risks.” American Diabetes Association.
Melnick, Meredith. “Studies: Why Diet Sodas Are No Benefit to Dieters.” Time Magazine. June 29, 2011.
“Metabolic Syndrome.” MayoClinic.