Sylvetsky and Dietz Publish Commentary on Nutrient Content Claims in NEJM

Consumers, and particularly parents, should use caution when selecting packaged foods and beverages with claims including “sugar-free” and “no sugar added” because these products may not be as healthy as they might seem, according to a commentary authored by Allison C. Sylvetsky, PhD, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, and William H. Dietz, MD, PhD, director of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, both at Milken Institute SPH. The co-authors teamed up to write the article, “Nutrient-Content Claims—Guidance or Cause for Confusion?” which was published in the July 17, 2014 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine as a perspective. The co-authors point out that while the food and beverage industry has made efforts to lower the sugar and calorie content of a wide range of products, many of these products contain sugar- and calorie-related claims that consumers do not understand.  In addition, these products often contain nonnutritive (artificial) sweeteners (e.g. aspartame, sucralose) which many parents believe are not safe for their children.  Yet, parents purchase these seemingly healthier products without realizing that they contain nonnutritive sweeteners, calling attention to the need for improved nutrition labeling. 

Sylvetsky and Dietz point out that while these nonnutritive sweeteners contain no- or few- calories, they are highly sweet and studies suggest that children who are exposed to highly sweet foods at a young age may develop a preference for sweet-tasting foods and beverages, which are often high in calories. Sylvetsky and Dietz argue that parents need to know what they are buying and how much of these nonnutritive sweeteners have been added into foods or beverages so that they can make an informed choice about what to feed their children.

Read the abstract of the article.