Popular Soda Sweetener Aspartame Could Cause Cancer, World Health Organization Reportedly Set To Declare

(Photo by SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images)

Julianna Frieman Contributor
Font Size:

An artificial sweetener found in popular sodas could cause cancer.

One of the most common artificial sweeteners in soft drinks, aspartame, is reportedly set to be declared carcinogenic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in July,  according to Reuters.

Aspartame will be deemed “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the WHO’s cancer research branch. The artificial sweetener is used in products like Coca-Cola’s diet sodas, Mars’ Extra chewing gum and some Snapple drinks.

The purpose of an IRAC ruling is to determine whether or not a product is hazardous. It does not account for how much of the product is safe for consumption. (RELATED: FDA Announces Recall Of Valentine’s Chocolates Sold At Target)

The WHO’s committee on additives, the Joint WHO Food and Agriculture Organization’s Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), is also reviewing aspartame use.

The findings of both groups will be made public July 14, the same day that the IARC intends to announce its decision on the artificial sweetener.

“We kindly ask both bodies to coordinate their efforts in reviewing aspartame to avoid any confusion or concerns among the public,” Nozomi Tomita, a Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare representative, said to WHO Deputy Director General Zsuzsanna Jakob in a March 27 letter seen by Reuters.

Aspartame was considered safe for human consumption since 1981 until fairly recently, according to DailyMail. It is an artificial sweetener 200 times sweeter than sugar, commonly found in products that are marketed as ‘diet’ or ‘sugar-free.’

There have been claims that aspartame causes cancer for several years, according to the American Cancer Society. However, the product has not yet officially been declared carcinogenic.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) previously concluded that “the use of aspartame as a general purpose sweeter… is safe.” The FDA tested and approved the safety of aspartame during this time.

The decision to declare aspartame a carcinogen may motivate more research on the ingredient, but it could also inflame debate on the role of global health entities in regulating health concerns.