Diet soda could be making people fatter, new study says

"Calorie-free does not equal consequence-free"

Published March 18, 2015 9:10PM (EDT)

     (<a href='url to photographer'>ValeStock</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(ValeStock via Shutterstock)

A new study found that regularly drinking diet soda is associated with remarkable weight gain among people over the age of 65. The study, led by Dr. Sharon P.G. Fowler of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, measured regular diet soda drinkers over time but not whether or not the beverage actually caused the weight gain. Still, the association between consumption of diet soda and an expanded waistline was apparent.

Reuters' Kathryn Doyle reports:

To see what role diet soda might play, the study team followed people over age 65 for an average of nine  years. The study started with physical examinations and questions about daily soda intake among 749 people who were over age 65 when first examined between 1992 and 1996. By 2003-2004, 375 participants were still living and had returned for three more examinations.

People who reported not drinking diet soda gained an average of 0.8 inches in waist circumference over the nine-year period compared to 1.83 inches for occasional diet soda drinkers and more than three inches for people who drank diet soda every day, according to the results in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

According to another study, about one fifth of Americans consumed some kind of diet drink every day in 2009-2010.

The researchers theorized that the weight gain could be for a number of reasons. Previous studies have indicated that artificial sweeteners could be to blame by altering the way the body processes sugar, leading people to be hungrier.

In an interview with Reuters, Fowler explained another theory, "I think it probably is true that for some people, if they are not being really hardcore about losing weight and getting a healthier lifestyle, if they switch over to diet soda, that allows them to have an extra slice of pizza or a candy bar." But that's not actually an effective weight loss strategy.

"Calorie-free does not equal consequence-free," she added.

By Joanna Rothkopf

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Diet Soda Food Health Junk Food Research Science Soda Weight