Diet soda is marketed as a healthier alternative to regular soda. But a new study suggests diet soda may be to blame for increased belly fat in the elderly. The study links zero-calorie sodas to higher rates of abdominal obesity in people aged 65 years and older.
Published by the Journal of American Geriatrics, the study is the first of its kind to study the effects of artificial sweeteners on the elderly. In addition to abdominal obesity, the study also found that daily consumption of diet soda could also increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease.
The study followed 749 individuals aged 65 or older who were of European-American and Mexican-American descent. Researchers began the study in the mid-1990s and collected data for more than 9 years. The team measured waist circumference, tracked diet soda intake and also measured the height and weight of participants four times during the study.
The results showed that those who abstained from drinking diet soda only added 0.8 inches to their waist, while those who drank diet soda on a daily basis saw an increase of 3.16 inches in their waist.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.9 billion adults were overweight (BMI of 25 or more) in 2014, and 600 million were classified as obese. That’s more than double the number of obesity cases counted by WHO in 1980.
Why is diet soda linked to higher rates of obesity? Experts are blaming artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. Recent studies suggest that the consumption of artificial sweeteners has increased exponentially over the last 30 years as well as the number of obesity cases.