The report, published by the American Heart Association, claimed that people who drank one diet or low calorie soft drink a day were 2.96 times more likely to suffer a stroke and 2.89 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
However, BSDA director general Gavin Partington said the claims were baseless and had no scientific evidence to back them up.
“Despite their claims, the authors of this observational study admit they found no cause and effect and provide no science-based evidence whatsoever to support their theories,” he said.
“In fact, based on the evidence, Public Health England is actively encouraging food and drink companies to use low calorie sweeteners as an alternative to sugar and help people manage their weight.”
‘Help people manage their weight’
The results of the US report are based on the data of more than 4,300 people in a long-term medical research project, the Farmingham Heart Study.
The report’s lead author, fellow in the Department of Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine Matthew Pase, said the results showed an association or trend in a group of people and not a direct cause-and-effect link.
He said that “the jury is still out” on whether drinking artificially sweetened beverages caused a higher risk of stroke and dementia, but the results showed “people need to be cautious”.
Partington’s comments come as the National Health Service (NHS) announced it would cut sales of sugary drinks in all hospital shops.
Ban on selling sugary drinks
In a separate development, NHS England revealed plans to force retailers with hospital outlets to limit sugary drinks sales to no more than 10%. Companies that do not comply would face a ban on selling sugary drinks in hospital shops.
Partington also commented on the NHS’s actions, asking them to promote sales of healthier options, but not to focus on soft drinks.
He said soft drinks were “the only food and drink category which has seen a significant reduction in consumer sugar intake, down by over 18% since 2012”.
“It’s also worth remembering that while sugar intake from soft drinks has been falling, obesity levels have been increasing.”
New NHS England rules for selling sugary drinks in hospitals
- Sugary drinks should account for no more than 10% of the shop’s total sales.
- Companies that do not comply will face a band on selling sugary drinks.
- Sales cuts apply to fruit juices with added sugar and coffees with sugar syrup.
- Retailers with hospital shops would be required to provide sales figures to the NHS.