Although medical experts have long stressed the fact that consuming excess sugar is unhealthy, the World Health Organization is now considering whether to issue guidance linking a popular sugar substitute to serious health risks.
Aspartame is widely used as an artificial sweetener in sodas and other products, but it has faced serious scrutiny in the past. Its use has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for more than 40 years, though, and the agency has conducted multiple follow-up safety evaluations on the substance in the intervening years.
The sugar substitute is also approved for use in more than 90 other nations around the world.
Nevertheless, the WHO is citing studies like one conducted last year in France that link elevated use of aspartame to an increased cancer risk as the impetus for a pair of recent meetings meant to determine whether it should declare the product unsafe.
Diet Coke is only unsafe when you start getting 4g of aspartame per kilogram of body weight everyday
This equates to 1800 diet Cokes on a daily basis for a 200lbs man
— Ethan Buck (@iron_will_pt) June 30, 2023
In a statement on the matter, the organization explained that the International Agency for Research on Cancer “has assessed the potential carcinogenic effect of aspartame, and in response, a WHO panel “will update its risk assessment exercise on aspartame, including the reviewing of the acceptable daily intake and dietary exposure assessment for aspartame.”
Despite some studies that have found a tenuous link between aspartame use and cancer, critics say such research only demonstrates correlation and fails to prove causation.
The beverage industry, which relies heavily on the use of the artificial sweetener, has been particularly outspoken.
An executive for the American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other major brands, argued that the preponderance of evidence shows that aspartame does not constitute a significant health risk.
“There is a broad consensus in the scientific and regulatory community that aspartame is safe,” Kevin Keane said. “It’s a conclusion reached time and time again by food safety agencies around the world.”
International Sweeteners Association Secretary General Frances Hunt-Wood offered a similar take, asserting: “Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly researched ingredients in history, with over 90 food safety agencies across the globe declaring it is safe, including the European Food Safety Authority, which conducted the most comprehensive safety evaluation of aspartame to date.”
The WHO is expected to announce its findings on July 14.