WHO: Link Between Aspartame And Cancer Not Conclusive

Jul 18, 2023

What if a global health group told us that eating a lot of a popular food could be risky, but nothing changed?

That’s what happened last week. The World Health Organization (WHO) said aspartame might cause cancer in people. Aspartame is a fake sugar used in NutraSweet and Equal. 

But WHO didn't change how much aspartame it says is safe to eat or drink each day. That means an adult who weighs 154 pounds can still drink 9 to 14 cans of diet soda every day without hurting their health.

So, what's going on?  

Aspartame is the most popular fake sugar in America. The Food and Drug Administration approved it in 1974. Since then, it’s become one of the most studied food products. But some scientists think more research is needed. That's because it's in so many things now. It’s found in breakfast cereals, dairy products, drugs, and even toothpaste.   

Even WHO officials didn't make such a big deal out of their own statement. They just said it was a sign that we need to study aspartame more. WHO has four categories for things that can cause cancer: non-carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, and carcinogenic. Processed meat is in the last category. 

New studies have linked aspartame to liver cancer. This is why the WHO decided to make a change. Other studies have linked aspartame to different health problems. But the research only shows a link, not that aspartame directly causes these problems.

Mary Schubauer-Berigan is a WHO official. She said the agency's statement does not show there is "a known cancer hazard from consuming aspartame." 

Photo from Reuters.

Reflect: Do you think it's important for scientists and health organizations to continue researching and studying the foods we consume? Explain.

Based on the details in the story, which of the following statements about aspartame is false? (Common Core RI.5.1; RI.6.1)
a. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener sold under various brand names.
b. WHO officials think we need to study aspartame more.
c. Consuming aspartame has been proven to directly cause liver cancer.
d. The Food and Drug Administration approved aspartame in 1974.
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