Chewing gum has been linked to better diets – but it’s no way to improve your health

"So, should we all be rushing out to buy gum to chew ourselves to better health?"

Published April 15, 2024 5:00PM (EDT)

Chewing gum in an open wrapper (Getty Images/tam_odin)
Chewing gum in an open wrapper (Getty Images/tam_odin)

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

The relationship between chewing gum – both the sugary and the non-sugary kind – and whether chewing gum might prevent conditions like gum disease, bone loss around teeth, and caries, was studied in research published in the Journal of the American Nutrition Association in early 2024.

The researchers used data from people who were enrolled in a large population-based study between 2013 and 2019. In addition to reporting on their oral health, participants were also asked questions about their diet, weight and waist circumference – the size of their waistline.

Analysis of the data showed no relationship between chewing gum and oral health.

However, out of the of 15,178 participants in the study, 2.4% reported to chew gum on a regular basis. Gum chewers appeared to have a healthier diet, including a lower intake of added sugars compared to those who don't chew gum.

So, should we all be rushing out to buy gum to chew ourselves to better health?


Chewing away at obesity?

The answer is no and here's the reason why.

The study doesn't actually say that chewing gum leads to better dietary choices. All the data tells us is that some of the participants who chew gum also happen to consume fewer refined sugars and have a healthier diet. The research does not find any causality between chewing gum and improved health.

There could be a number of reasons why the researchers found this relationship. For example, it might be that people who try and have a healthy diet might also be keen to keep their teeth healthy and follow the widespread advice that chewing sugar free gum is good for teeth. Or, it might simply be that they like to have fresh breath. Your guess is as good as mine.

In the study, however, gum chewers did not eat less, were no less likely to be overweight or did not have a slimmer waistline. So, no relationship was found between the amount of food consumed, weight and whether or not people chewed gum.


Fixes for long-term health

The overconsumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks, foods and processed foods is, unfortunately, very common.
Increased consumption of sugar has led to a sharp rise in the number of people who are overweight or obese and those who have type 2 diabetes.

In addition to the health risks associated with these conditions – and the cost of treating them – they can have a significant impact on quality of life.

The standard medical advice for obesity is to get plenty of exercise and maintain a healthy diet – especially one low in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and sugar.

This "eat less, move more" approach to obesity treatment has been criticised for being simplistic, overlooking the social and biological factors that can contribute to weight problems. Even so, even this most basic advice – to eat a healthy diet and increase exercise – proves difficult for many.

As anyone who's attempted to kick a habit or to stick to a new year's resolution past January will know, changes to our lifestyle, including diet, are often tough to implement and even trickier to maintain. Seemingly easy, accessible options for weight control like chewing gum, or other social media fads like drinking apple cider vinegar or olive oil, are always welcome and newsworthy, then.

Easy, accessible weight loss 'fixes' are always newsworthy.

In order to claim that chewing gum affects the way we eat – healthier food choices and consumption of less sugary foods – would require a trial where a group of participants are instructed to chew gum and have their food choices and intake compared to another non-gum chewing group.

These studies have actually been conducted, but the reason chewing gum hasn't been included in any health and nutritional advice is that the results of these studies did not provide strong evidence that chewing gum affects what and how much we eat.

It's not the first time chewing gum has been reported to aid weight loss.

So, I am afraid, chewing gum won't help you make the right choices when it comes to food. It's back to us making the difficult decisions, and governments and the food industry promoting healthy food choices; and making sure that healthy food is affordable to us all.

Sandra Sunram-Lea, Professor in Biological Psychology, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

By Sandra Sunram-Lea

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