Overweight and obese adults drink more diet beverages than healthy-weight adults — yet still consume significantly more food calories than overweight and obese adults who drink sugar-sweetened beverages, a study published in the January 2014 “American Journal of Public Health ” found. It looked at cross-sectional data of nearly 24,000 Americans over a 10-year period, says co-author Sara Bleich, associate professor of health policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore “The folks that drink diet sodas consume a lot more calories,” she says.
Others disagree: A body of research supports that low-calorie sweeteners, such as those found in diet beverages, can help reduce calorie intake and aid in maintaining a healthy weight, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association says. “There are a number of studies that show the benefits of diet beverages, which are 99% water,” she adds. One 2012 study published in the “ American Journal of Clinical Nutrition ” suggests people can use diet beverages to lose weight, she adds. (Replacement of caloric beverages with noncaloric beverages as a weight-loss strategy resulted in average weight losses of 2% to 2.5%, it found.)
One recent study published in the May 2014 edition of “ Obesity ” found that 150 people lost 13 pounds drinking diet soda as part of a 12-week weight-loss program, while 150 people who drank water only lost 9 pounds. The study was funded by the American Beverage Association, but one of the co-authors of the study, John Peters, professor of medicine in the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado, says the study was independent and a third party monitored the data. “All they did was provide the money,” he says.
People in the study who drank diet soda actually reported being less hungry, Peters says. Of course, the study was only 12 weeks long and was conducted as part of a weight management program, so Bleich says it’s no surprise they lost weight. “Most people lose the most weight in the first three to eight months,” Peters responds, adding that there was a nine-month follow-up period. But it’s also unrealistic to study people drinking diet sodas in an uncontrolled — real world — setting and expect them to lose weight, he says. “Weight loss is mostly between the ears,” he adds. “You have to want it. It’s a commitment.”