Researchers from the University of Sydney studying the effects of funding bias in nutrition research and artificial sweeteners have found that their health benefits may have been overhyped.
The comprehensive review, led by Daniele Mandrioli from the Ramazzini Institute, on most major artificial sweeteners studies published to this day revealed widespread bias in industry-funded research supporting them.
Conducted in collaboration with researchers at the Charles Perkins Centre’s Bias in Research project node, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the University of California, the review examined 31 studies conducted on artificial sweeteners between 1978 and 2014.
All studies that formed part of the current review published in the latest edition of PLOS ONE journal considered both potential beneficial effects of artificial sweeteners, such as weight loss, as well as harmful effects, like the development of type 2 diabetes.
The researchers found that those funded by artificial sweetener companies were nearly 17 times more likely to have favourable results.
This suggests that not all scientific studies looking at the effects of artificial sweeteners are equal and that the artificial sweetener industry has had a lot of power over the results of many of them.
There are several ways that the results of these studies may have been tweaked.
In this case, researchers believe that the scientists behind the funded studies on artificial sweeteners have cherry picked the data and the conclusions of these studies, by emphasising artificial sweeteners’ positive effects while neglecting mention of any drawbacks.
Transparency around an author’s conflicts of interest and funding sources in nutrition science research today is lagging behind other fields and these studies are no exception.
It has been found that almost half (42 per cent) of the reviews of artificial sweetener studies had authors that 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 draw positive conclusions and none of the nine studies without conflicts of interest reported positive results.
Overall, this alarming review shows that claims made by artificial sweetener companies should be taken with a degree of healthy skepticism.

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