NHS Slams* News Stories Slamming Sugar-Free Soft Drinks

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Sugar-free soft drinks have a had a bad week, taking flak from all sides of the media after a review was published in the medical journal PLOS Medicine that suggested there was no evidence that diet drinks were any better for your health than their sugar-filled counterparts.

The review spawned a proliferation of articles bashing artificially-sweetened drinks, with most of these stories suggesting a “study” or “new research” had claimed they could be as big a part of the obesity problem as sugary beverages.

However, the NHS’ invaluable Behind The Headlines service has taken issue with such a drastic interpretation of the review, and with good reason.

Firstly, rather than new research or a systematic review, this was a narrative review which is more or less an informed opinion piece. It is still based on existing evidence on the subject, but not in a systematic way, so can miss counterarguments and some relevant evidence, and be quite one-sided as a result.

Although the existing evidence is mixed and does little to prove that sugar-free drinks are better for health outcomes, plenty of experts came out in reaction to the review to counter its conclusion that diet drinks shouldn’t be recommended as an alternative.

Professor Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Glasgow commented in the NHS article:

“I do not agree with the suggestion that diet drinks are no better than sugary drinks in terms of body weight. Whilst I agree the evidence base in terms of proper trials comparing sugary drinks with diet drinks are lacking for real end-points like weight or heart disease, intuitively a drink which contains lots of calories (i.e. sugary drinks) versus one that contains few or no calories (i.e. diet drinks) must be worse for health given clear adverse effects on dental health and clear gain of calories and so weight gain potential. To suggest otherwise would be irresponsible.”

That’s right, irresponsible. Basically it seems fair to say that a soft drink is so bad any alternative aside from drinking alcohol or human blood is likely to be preferable. Tap water is still king though. Mmmm… tap water.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.