The Trust for America's Health has just released a somewhat depressing new evaluation of the state of Americans' weight. In brief, the organization found that the rate of obesity continues to climb in thirty-one states and has remained the same (since their report two years ago) in eighteen other states and the District of Columbia. Although the group focuses primarily on government actions to counteract this trend, the bottom line is that it is still the individual who must make changes in lifestyle to either prevent or treat obesity.
Consumers who are trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss thus should be pleased to learn of recent scientific evidence that the use of aspartame as a sugar substitute to reduce the calorie content of foods and beverages can indeed help people lose weight. A recent review (published in the Nutrition Bulletin 31: 115, June 2006) examined the results of sixteen studies that compared the energy (calorie) intake of healthy adults (men and women between nineteen and fifty years old) who consumed either aspartame-sweetened beverages or foods, or who ate the same items sweetened with sugar.
As you'd expect, there was an overall reduction in energy intake by the aspartame users of about 10% compared to that of the sugar consumers. That doesn't seem like much, but on average it was a deficit of about 222 calories per day. If maintained over the course of a year, such a reduction would lead to a decrease of over twenty-three pounds of body weight. In some of the studies, there was some compensation for the calorie deficit — that is, people consumed more calories from other foods or beverages — but it amounted to less than one-third of the calorie reduction. So in spite of the compensation, people did lose weight when they used aspartame to reduce calorie intake.
In summary, the review authors emphasized that "using foods and drinks sweetened with aspartame instead of those sweetened with sucrose is an effective way to maintain and lose weight without reducing the palatability of the diet." Thus, whether or not the government or public health community manages to come up with policies to slow or reverse the obesity epidemic, there are effective means individuals can use to help themselves.
For more information on aspartame and other alternative sweeteners, see the ACSH publication, Sugar Substitutes and Your Health.