Creating a literature database of low-calorie sweeteners and health studies: evidence mapping

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2016 Jan 5:16:1. doi: 10.1186/s12874-015-0105-z.


Background: Evidence mapping is an emerging tool used to systematically identify, organize and summarize the quantity and focus of scientific evidence on a broad topic, but there are currently no methodological standards. Using the topic of low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) and selected health outcomes, we describe the process of creating an evidence-map database and demonstrate several example descriptive analyses using this database.

Methods: The process of creating an evidence-map database is described in detail. The steps include: developing a comprehensive literature search strategy, establishing study eligibility criteria and a systematic study selection process, extracting data, developing outcome groups with input from expert stakeholders and tabulating data using descriptive analyses. The database was uploaded onto SRDR™ (Systematic Review Data Repository), an open public data repository.

Results: Our final LCS evidence-map database included 225 studies, of which 208 were interventional studies and 17 were cohort studies. An example bubble plot was produced to display the evidence-map data and visualize research gaps according to four parameters: comparison types, population baseline health status, outcome groups, and study sample size. This plot indicated a lack of studies assessing appetite and dietary intake related outcomes using LCS with a sugar intake comparison in people with diabetes.

Conclusion: Evidence mapping is an important tool for the contextualization of in-depth systematic reviews within broader literature and identifies gaps in the evidence base, which can be used to inform future research. An open evidence-map database has the potential to promote knowledge translation from nutrition science to policy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cohort Studies
  • Databases, Factual*
  • Evidence-Based Practice / methods*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Non-Nutritive Sweeteners / administration & dosage*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Publications / statistics & numerical data*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Review Literature as Topic


  • Non-Nutritive Sweeteners