Adverse effects of high-intensity sweeteners on energy intake and weight control in male and obesity-prone female rats

Behav Neurosci. 2013 Apr;127(2):262-74. doi: 10.1037/a0031717. Epub 2013 Feb 11.


The use of high-intensity sweeteners has been proposed as a method to combat increasing rates of overweight and obesity in the human population. However, previous work with male rats suggests that consumption of such sweeteners might contribute to, rather than ameliorate, weight gain. The goals of the present experiments were to assess whether intake of high-intensity sweeteners is associated with increased food intake and body weight gain in female rats; to evaluate whether this effect depends on composition of the maintenance diet (i.e., standard chow compared with diets high in energy, fat, and sugar [HE diets]); and to determine whether the phenotype of the rats with regard to propensity to gain weight on HE diets affects the consequences of consuming high-intensity sweeteners. The data demonstrated that female rats fed a low-fat, standard laboratory chow diet did not gain extra weight when fed yogurt dietary supplements sweetened with saccharin compared with those fed glucose-sweetened dietary supplements. However, female rats maintained on a "Westernized" diet high in fat and sugar (HE diet) showed significant increases in energy intake, weight gain, and adiposity when given saccharin-sweetened compared with glucose-sweetened yogurt supplements. These differences were most pronounced in female rats known to be prone to obesity prior to the introduction of the yogurt diets. Both selectively bred Crl:OP[CD] rats and outbred Sprague-Dawley rats fed an HE diet showing high levels of weight gain (diet-induced obese [DIO] rats) had increased weight gain in response to consuming saccharin-sweetened compared with glucose-sweetened supplements. However, in male rats fed an HE diet, saccharin-sweetened supplements produced extra weight gain regardless of obesity phenotype. These results suggest that the most negative consequences of consuming high-intensity sweeteners may occur in those most likely to use them for weight control, females consuming a "Westernized" diet and already prone to excess weight gain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / drug effects*
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Energy Intake / drug effects*
  • Energy Intake / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Saccharin / pharmacology*
  • Sweetening Agents / pharmacology*


  • Sweetening Agents
  • Saccharin