Background: Adverse associations of low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages (LNCSB) with cardiometabolic outcomes in observational studies may be explained by reverse causality and residual confounding.
Purpose: To address these limitations we used change analyses of repeated measures of intake and substitution analyses to synthesize the association of LNCSB with cardiometabolic outcomes.
Data sources: MEDLINE, Embase, and the Cochrane Library were searched up to 10 June 2021 for prospective cohort studies with ≥1 year of follow-up duration in adults.
Study selection: Outcomes included changes in clinical measures of adiposity, risk of overweight/obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes (T2D), cardiovascular disease, and total mortality.
Data extraction: Two independent reviewers extracted data, assessed study quality, and assessed certainty of evidence using GRADE. Data were pooled with a random-effects model and expressed as mean difference (MD) or risk ratio (RR) and 95% CI.
Data synthesis: A total of 14 cohorts (416,830 participants) met the eligibility criteria. Increase in LNCSB intake was associated with lower weight (5 cohorts, 130,020 participants; MD -0.008 kg/year [95% CI -0.014, -0.002]). Substitution of LNCSB for sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) was associated with lower weight (three cohorts, 165,579 participants; MD, -0.12 [-0.14, -0.10,] kg/y) and lower incidence of obesity (OB) (one cohort, 15,765 participants; RR 0.88 [95% CI 0.88, 0.89]), coronary heart disease (six cohorts, 233,676 participants; 0.89 [0.81, 0.98]), cardiovascular disease mortality (one cohort, 118,363 participants; 0.95 [0.90, 0.99]), and total mortality (one cohort, 118,363 participants; 0.96 [0.94, 0.98]) with no adverse associations across other outcomes. Substitution of water for SSB showed lower weight (three cohorts, 165,579 participants; MD -0.10 kg/year [-0.13, -0.06]), lower waist circumference (one cohort, 173 participants; -2.71 cm/year [-4.27, -1.15]) and percent body fat (one cohort, 173 participants; -1.51% per year [-2.61, -0.42]), and lower incidence of OB (one cohort, 15,765 participants; RR 0.85 [0.75, 0.97]) and T2D (three cohorts, 281,855 participants; 0.96 [0.94, 0.98]). Substitution of LNCSB for water showed no adverse associations.
Limitations: The evidence was low to very low certainty owing to downgrades for imprecision, indirectness, and/or inconsistency.
Conclusions: LNCSB were not associated with cardiometabolic harm in analyses that model the exposure as change or substitutions. The available evidence provides some indication that LNCSB in their intended substitution for SSB may be associated with cardiometabolic benefit, comparable with the standard of care, water.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT04245826.
© 2022 by the American Diabetes Association.