America's obesity epidemic has gathered much media attention recently. A rise in the percent of the population who are obese coincides with an increase in the widespread use of non-caloric artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame (e.g., Diet Coke) and sucralose (e.g., Pepsi One), in food products (Figure 1). Both forward and reverse causalities have been proposed. While people often choose "diet" or "light" products to lose weight, research studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may contribute to weight gain. In this mini-review, inspired by a discussion with Dr. Dana Small at Yale's Neuroscience 2010 conference in April, I first examine the development of artificial sweeteners in a historic context. I then summarize the epidemiological and experimental evidence concerning their effects on weight. Finally, I attempt to explain those effects in light of the neurobiology of food reward.
Keywords: acesulfame K; artificial sweeteners; aspartame; food reward; neotame; non-caloric; obesity; postingestive effects; saccharin; sucralose; sugar; weight gain.