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Potentially Harmful Myths About Diet Products

Media Release
EMBARGOED UNTIL 6am monday 22 September 2008

potentially harmful Myths about diet products

The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation is concerned misinformation surrounding the common food ingredient aspartame could be prompting New Zealanders to avoid diet products in favour of the regular versions.

Aspartame is the low calorie sweetener used in many diet food and beverage products commonly found on our supermarket shelves. It has been the target of a groundswell of misinformation without any scientific basis and could be causing New Zealanders to shy away from diet products inappropriately. For example, there is evidence consumers are switching from diet drinks to sugar-containing drinks (see key points below). And if this is happening with drinks there is a good chance it is also happening with other foods containing aspartame in place of sugar.

Nikki Hart, respected New Zealand Nutritionist and NZ Nutrition Foundation Council member is concerned the perpetuation of misinformation around the safety of diet drinks has the potential to do real harm.

“The switch from diet drinks to sugar-containing drinks is an unfortunate and potentially harmful trend in an environment where both obesity and diabetes are on the rise. While health advice is always to drink water as a first choice, substituting a perfectly appropriate low energy drink for a drink containing energy is not a good choice for some people.”

The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation is holding seminars in Auckland and Wellington this week featuring one of the leading world experts on aspartame. Dr Bernadene Magnuson from the University of Toronto is the lead author of one of the most comprehensive, peer-reviewed reviews of aspartame research published recently, which found it to be a much-studied sweetener whose safety is clearly documented and well established through extensive scientific research.

Nikki Hart is also participating in the seminars, speaking about the role of aspartame in food and beverages and the benefits it offers people who need to control their weight or manage diabetes.


ENDS

Dr Magnuson has been brought to New Zealand by Coca-Cola Oceania.


Key Points - Consumer sales data on diet and regular drink consumption

Research agency The Nielsen Company reports a NZ consumer shift in demand away from diet soft drinks towards regular variants. The key points are:

• In 2008 (year-to-date), supermarket sales of diet soft drinks have fallen by 5%
• In the same period, regular soft drink sales have grown by 9.5%.

To put this shift into perspective, between 2004 and 2006 in NZ supermarkets:
• Diet soft drink sales grew by 37%
• Regular soft drink sales declined by 1%.

(Source: Nielsen Scantrack data to August 10 2008)

Interestingly NZ seems to be the only market globally in which diet drinks are declining in sales (anecdotal reports from the Coca-Cola Company).

Anecdotally this trend is also being seen in other categories of products in NZ containing non-nutritive sweeteners, such as sugar free gum, non-nutritive sweeteners on their own and ‘lite’ yoghurts.

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