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.