Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are increasingly consumed by children and pregnant women around the world, yet their long-term health impact is unclear. Here, we review an emerging body of evidence suggesting that early-life exposure to NNS may adversely affect body composition and cardio-metabolic health. Some observational studies suggest that children consuming NNS are at increased risk for obesity-related outcomes; however, others find no association or provide evidence of confounding. Fewer studies have examined prenatal NNS exposure, with mixed results from different analytical approaches. There is a paucity of RCTs evaluating NNS in children, yielding inconsistent results that can be difficult to interpret due to study design limitations (e.g., choice of comparator, multifaceted interventions). The majority of this research has been conducted in high-income countries. Some rodent studies demonstrate adverse metabolic effects from NNS, but most have used extreme doses that are not relevant to humans, and few have distinguished prenatal from postnatal exposure. Most studies focus on synthetic NNS in beverages, with few examining plant-derived NNS or NNS in foods. Overall, there is limited and inconsistent evidence regarding the impact of early-life NNS exposure on the developmental programming of obesity and cardio-metabolic health. Further research and mechanistic studies are needed to elucidate these effects and inform dietary recommendations for expectant mothers and children worldwide.
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