Academic review finds evidence of bias in artificial sweetener research

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 19th September 2016

A University of Sydney review has found evidence of bias in research on the health benefits of artificial sweeteners.

The examination found academic reviews funded by artificial sweetener companies were nearly 17 times more likely to have results which favoured the health benefits of artificial sweeteners.

The analysis, which is published in volume 9, issue 11 of PLOS ONE journal, examined 31 academic reviews into artificial sweeteners conducted between 1978 – 2014. The reviews considered both the potential beneficial effects of artificial sweeteners, such as weight loss, as well as harmful effects like diabetes.

Out of the 31 reviews analysed, in 13 the authors did not disclose their conflicts of interest, with about one-third of studies failing to reveal their funding sources altogether.

Studies by authors with a conflict of interest were about seven times more likely to have favourable conclusions. None of the nine studies that had authors without a conflict of interest reported positive results.

“Transparency around an author’s conflicts of interest and research funding sources for this area of nutrition science is sadly lagging behind other fields,” said Professor Bero, a co-author of the analysis.

Four of the studies assessed in this latest review were funded by ‘competitor companies’ that marketed sugary drinks or water, with all four of these reviews reaching conclusions which did not promote the health benefits of artificial sweeteners.

The study follows the release of another last week which said a review funded by a sugar industry body down played the effects on sugar in heart disease and instead pointed to saturated fats.