Research Priorities for Studies Linking Intake of Low-Calorie Sweeteners and Potentially Related Health Outcomes: Research Methodology and Study Design

Curr Dev Nutr. 2017 Jun 8;1(7):e000547. doi: 10.3945/cdn.117.000547. eCollection 2017 Jul.


Background: In a world of finite research funding, efforts to prioritize future research topics are increasingly necessary. Objective: The aim of this study was to identify and prioritize the direction of future research in the broad area of low-calorie sweetener (LCS) intake and potentially related health outcomes by using a novel method that incorporates evidence mapping in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Future Research Needs (FRN) process. Methods: A diverse expert stakeholder panel was convened and engaged to identify research gaps and prioritize future research needs. An independent research team hosted a number of interactive webinars and elicited feedback through surveys and individual interviews with the stakeholder panel, which included policymakers, lay audience members, health providers, a research funder, individuals with food industry experience, and researchers of several different specialties. Results: The stakeholder panel generated and ranked a list of 18 FRN questions across 5 broad research areas. Overall, stakeholder panel members unanimously agreed that the research questions that will have the largest public health impact are those that address outcomes related to body weight, appetite, and dietary intake. Although the LCSs included in this FRN project have all been Generally Recognized as Safe by the FDA or approved as food additives, the recurrent concerns and confusions with regard to the "safety" of LCSs by consumers underscore the importance of communicating the science to the general public. Conclusion: Our project provides evidence that engaging a diverse expert stakeholder panel is an effective method of translating gaps in nutrition research into prioritized areas of future research.

Keywords: artificial sweeteners; future research needs; high-intensity sweeteners; low-calorie sweeteners; non-nutritive sweeteners.