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Maternal consumption of artificially sweetener during pregnancy may increase the risk of early childhood obesity

Investigating a paradoxical risk of childhood obesity

New funding will examine the effect of artificial sweetener intake during pregnancy

June 28, 2017 — 

In 2016, a study led by researcher Meghan Azad found that regular consumption of artificial sweeteners by pregnant women may lead to an increased risk of early childhood obesity in their newborn children.

Childhood obesity rates in Canada have doubled since 1970, with nearly 1 in 3 children now classified as overweight or obese. Over the same period, the consumption of artificial sweeteners has steadily increased among children and adults, including pregnant women.

Some research suggests that regular consumption of artificial sweeteners may paradoxically increase the risk of obesity and metabolic disease, although little is known about the effect of exposure in utero. A new study aims to find out.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health awarded Azad and her team, which includes researchers from the University of Calgary, $75,000 to look into the issue.

Meghan Azad

Meghan Azad

“Recently in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study, we found that maternal consumption of artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy is associated with higher infant body mass index,” says Azad, an assistant professor in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences at the U of M and a research scientist at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba.

“However, we do not know the biological reason for this association. With the help of this new funding we will analyze existing fecal and urine samples from infants in the CHILD cohort to examine their gut microbiome and metabolism. This research will help us understand how artificial sweetener consumption during pregnancy influences infant weight gain,” says Azad.

The results of the study will help improve nutrition recommendations for pregnant women and could ultimately contribute to new strategies for childhood obesity prevention.

“I am extremely proud of Dr. Azad and her team’s intuitive and forward-thinking research,” says Dr. Digvir Jayas, Vice-President (Research and International) and Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba. “The collaborative nature of this project will hopefully lead to better health outcomes for children in Manitoba.”

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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