research brief: health effects of diet drinks

Introduction: “Is diet soda healthy?” This seemingly simple question has been a source of confusion for consumers and scientists for years. In 2016, it emerged as a prominent policy question in jurisdictions considering a sugary drink tax when two jurisdictions – Philadelphia, PA, and Cook County, IL – voted to tax both sugary drinks and artificially sweetened beverages (ASB), such as diet soda. In contrast, five other jurisdictions – Boulder, CO, and Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, CA – limited their taxes to drinks with added sugar.

The rationales for taxing sugary drinks include preventing disease by reducing consumption of unhealthy products and raising awareness of adverse health effects. Taxing ASBs is more controversial because there is more debate over the role of ASBs in weight management and chronic disease prevention.

This research brief summarizes the evidence on ASBs and their effect on individuals’ risk of disease, and whether risks may be offset by potential benefits such as weight loss. The brief is designed to summarize existing evidence from recent systematic reviews and randomized trials. As we describe at the conclusion, the implications of the evidence.

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