Embargoed: Thursday 15th April 2010

British Nutrition Foundation survey published today shows consumers are confused about low calorie sweeteners

A survey of over 2000 consumers carried out by YouGov on behalf of the British Nutrition Foundation shows that consumers are unsure about how low calorie sweeteners are used, whether they are beneficial for weight loss and whether they are safe. At a BNF conference held in London today, the evidence on the safety and health effects of low calorie sweeteners will be debated by leading experts in the field. This event aims to provide the latest science on low calorie sweeteners, and to help health professionals and journalists to communicate the messages clearly with the general public.

Sara Stanner, Science Programme Manager at the BNF explains: “Although our research shows that some consumers have questions about low calorie sweeteners and their role in the diet, it also indicates that nutritionists/dietitians and other health advisers are considered to be the most reliable source of information on food.  Health professionals, armed with the facts, can help to get accurate information to consumers and dispel some of the myths.” 

Can low calorie sweeteners help weight control?

The use of low calorie sweeteners helps reduce the calorie content of many foods and drinks. The BNF survey shows that 55% of respondents who use or eat any food or drinks that contain low calorie sweeteners, do so to help them control their weight, whilst 38% of the population think that low calorie sweeteners can help you lose weight as part of a calorie controlled diet. The same survey found that 18% of all respondents felt that low calorie sweeteners make no difference to weight loss.

Stanner continues: “We know that many consumers are confused about the role of low calorie sweeteners, but studies have indicated that making small changes to the diet, for example by choosing foods sweetened with low calorie sweeteners, can help with weight maintenance.” 

Consumers confused about safety of low calorie sweeteners

When asked about safety, 23% of all surveyed respondents said they need more information before deciding if low calorie sweeteners are safe or not and 31% think that safety depends on the amount of sweetener you consume. When the BNF survey asked respondents who thought that low calorie sweeteners might not be safe or good for you why this was the case, 44% said they didn’t like the idea of artificial ingredients and 30% thought that because they are artificial, they cannot be safe.

Professor Andrew Renwick from the University of Southampton, who will be presenting on the safety of low calorie sweeteners at the conference said: “Many people do not realise that all approved low calorie sweeteners have to undergo rigorous safety testing before they can be added to foods or beverages. Large safety factors are used to determine the safe intake for humans of each sweetener; the levels permitted in foods ensure that intakes are well below these safety levels”

The survey also found that despite the uncertainty about the safety and usefulness of low calorie sweeteners, the majority of respondents reported consuming  low calorie sweeteners, or products containing them regularly. Claire Williamson, a Nutrition Scientist at the BNF explains “Although there was a lot of variation in the responses given about the use and safety of low calorie sweeteners, when we asked people whether they consume foods and drinks such as diet soft drinks, sugar-free chewing gum or low calorie yogurts, that typically contain low calorie sweeteners, 82% of the population reported having these regularly.”

Stanner concludes “We hope that today’s conference will help to clarify the evidence so that consumers can make informed decisions about their use of low calorie sweeteners”


For further information, interviews and images contact:

Claire Williamson
Tel: 020 7404 6504 Email: [email protected]

Bridget Benelam
Tel: 020 7404 6504 Email: [email protected]

Notes for Editors:
1. The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) conference The science of low calorie sweeteners – separating fact from fiction, is being held in London on the 15th April 2010. http://www.nutrition.org.uk/bnfevents/pastevents/sweeteners

2. BNF offers an expert nutrition information service for journalists and media. Tel: 02074046504. Email: [email protected]

3. BNF was established over 40 years ago and exists to deliver authoritative, evidence-based information on food and nutrition in the context of health and lifestyle. The Foundation’s work is conducted and communicated through a unique blend of nutrition science, education and media activities. BNF’s strong governance is broad-based but weighted towards the academic community.  BNF is a registered charity that attracts funding from a variety of sources, including contracts with the European Commission, national government departments and agencies; food producers and manufacturers, retailers and food service companies; grant providing bodies, trusts and other charities. Further details about our work, governance and funding can be found on our website (www.nutrition.org.uk) and in our Annual Reports.

4. The Foundation thanks  Coca Cola Great Britain and Ireland, Tate & Lyle Sugars and McNeil Consumer Nutritionals for financial support that has  enabled the cost of this event to delegates to be subsidized 

5. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2017 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd - 25th March 2010.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Last reviewed April 2010. Next review due December 2013.