Diet Drinks Are Actually Making America Fatter

That Diet Coke is making you fat. Well if not now, it will soon enough. 

A new study from Purdue University suggests that long-time diet soda drinkers face an array of health risks including obesity, diabetes, and health disease. That makes diet drinks no different from sodas full of real sugar and not aspartame. 

Susie Swithers, a professor of psychological sciences and behavioral neuroscientist, reviewed a number of recent studies inquiring whether the drinks' long-term effects include overeating, weight gain, or other health problems. 


The results came up positive. Two studies in particular stood out. One proved that those who drank diet sodas were more likely to experience weight gain than non-drinkers. The other discovered that diet-drink consumers were twice as likely to develop metabolic syndrome (a indicator of cardiovascular disease), than those who did not drink diet drinks.

Concerning the research Swithers said, "Are diet sodas worse for you than regular sodas? I think that's the wrong question. "It's, 'What good are sodas for you in the first place?'"

They aren't. The problem with diet drinks — which contain not only aspartame, but oftentimes sucralose and saccharin as well — is the healthy myth surrounding them. Diet drinks have been marketed as the fun, sexy, yet nutritious alternative to sugary sodas.


In 1952, a Russian immigrant family living in Brooklyn manufactured No-Cal, the first zero calorie soda. It was sold locally and targeted toward diabetics. But by the next decade, the diet drinks began to gain popularity. After No-Cal came a slew of brands, some of which have survived over the decades: Diet Rite (1958), Diet Dr. Pepper (1962), Tab, renamed Diet Coke (1963), Like, renamed Diet 7 Up (1963), Diet Pepsi (1964).

And ever since, advertisers have marketed these drinks as the "smart" soda. Despite Swithers' findings, the American Beverage Association did not take the study seriously. 

"This is an opinion piece not a scientific study. Low-calorie sweeteners are some of the most studied and reviewed ingredients in the food supply today. They are a safe and an effective tool in weight loss and weight management, according to decades of scientific research and regulatory agencies around the globe."

Never mind that the ABA is a trade organization that represents America's non-alcoholic beverage industry. 

Still, Swithers had a point of her own to make. "The take-home message is for people to be much mindful of how much sweetener, whether artificial or sugar, they're actually consuming," she said. "We're talking about a health issue here. We're not talking necessarily just about weight gain or weight loss. ... Science suggests that people who drink soda regularly end up with worse outcomes."

If I were you, I'd listen to the scientist. 

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Uchechi Kalu

Uchechi is PolicyMic's Politics Intern and a senior@ Princeton University. Tweet her @chechkalu

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