PORTO, Portugal  (Food-News.net)  Leading experts in the field of food additive safety and risk communication gathered at a symposium hosted today by the Nutrition Research Foundation at the 2nd World Congress of Public Health Nutrition to discuss the safety of low-calorie sweeteners and reaffirm the positive role they can play in the diet. A key focus of the discussion was the challenge that healthcare professionals face in helping consumers to understand that low-calorie sweeteners are safe, approved ingredients that can be used to sweeten a wide variety of food and drink products, without contributing to the total caloric value.

Though low-calorie sweeteners are among the most extensively studied of all food additives, confusion still remains around their safety and their benefits. “For years we have been bombarded with information on low-calorie sweeteners through the media and online – much of it somewhat misleading and misinformed. It is difficult for healthcare professionals to reassure consumers that they are safe, and help them understand that in some cases, swapping a sugary food or drink for one sweetened by low-calorie sweeteners could be beneficial,” said Nutrition Research Foundation President, Professor Lluis Serra-Majem.

“The benefits of low-calorie sweeteners are undisputed amongst the credible scientific community, and certain sectors of the population that consume them can enjoy their benefits regularly – such as people with diabetes. The Nutrition Research Foundation believes that this message must now filter through to the wider population so that they can make informed choices about whether they include low-calorie sweeteners in their diets too,” added Professor Serra-Majem.

This sentiment was echoed in the presentations at the symposium by Professor Andrew Renwick, an expert on the safety assessment of low-calorie sweeteners, Dr Adam Drewnowski, a leader in innovative research approaches for the prevention and treatment of obesity and Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, a leading commentator on risk communications and the role of the media in food safety scares.

Dr Drewnowski highlighted the important role low-calorie sweeteners can play in managing weight and diabetes stating that: “Based on a review of the current epidemiologic and clinical evidence, low calorie sweeteners remain a powerful tool for the management of body weight, obesity and diabetes and it is important that consumers are made aware of this.”

The discussion at the symposium also highlighted the importance of media in the communications process. “Given the massive amount of misinformation on low-calorie sweeteners, which is continuously being recycled, it is important that responsible media sources provide consumers with information about the conclusions of safety assessments that are undertaken by independent regulatory authorities such as the WHO/FAO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives and the European Food Safety Authority,” explained Professor Renwick in his presentation.

Professor Löfstedt believes that the media plays a key role in helping consumers understand which scientific sources are credible, “One way to start this process would be to have a media communication checklist that could help journalists better differentiate between risk, uncertainty, science and pure lobbying.”

Löfstedt added that he sees an important communications role for regulators themselves, “There needs to be a better, wider understanding of the extensive work regulators do in the area of food safety. Regulators need to become better risk communicators and help to make their world more accessible to consumers.”

Professor Carlo La Vecchia and Professor Tur-Mari, moderators of the symposium, concluded the event by stating that healthcare professionals cannot overcome this challenge on their own: “Despite a large amount of evidence of absence of health risk of low calorie sweeteners, the public is subject to repeated alarms. We’d like to see regulatory authorities and media professionals, as trusted advisors to consumers, continuing to work together as a combined force to separate low-calorie sweetener fact from fiction in a concerted effort to finally banish misinformation.”

In the European Union, nine low-calorie sweeteners are approved for use in foodstuffs. These are acesulfame-K (E950), aspartame (E951), aspartame-acesulfame salt (E962), cyclamate (E952), neohesperidine DC (E959), saccharin (E954), sucralose (E955), thaumatin (E957) and neotame (E961).

About the Nutrition Research Foundation:

The Nutrition Research Foundation (FIN) is a private independent non-profit Foundation established in 1997 in Barcelona, whose mission is to promote, disseminate and develop research aimed at increasing knowledge in the field of food, nutrition and dietetics, with the objective of improving the health of the general population. It has a local scope both in Catalonia and the Spanish and international level and has its headquarters in the Barcelona Science Park, University of Barcelona, with delegations in Bilbao, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Madrid, Spain.

FIN carries out research projects in the field of nutritional epidemiology in healthy populations, nutrition related diseases, and the analysis of dietary and nutritional factors involved in the causality of the most prevalent diseases, with special reference to the Mediterranean Diet. Its activities also include projects in the areas of developing food composition databases, nutritional policies and the development of food based dietary guidelines.

FIN is presided by Prof. Lluis Serra-Majem, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canarias (ULPGC) and Director of the Community Nutrition Research Group of the University of Barcelona Science Park. Its team comprises a multidisciplinary staff of medical doctors, nutritionists, dietitians and pharmacists.

About the II World Congress of Public Health Nutrition:

The II World Congress of Public Health Nutrition and I Latin American Congress of Community Nutrition is being held in Porto, Portugal, September 23-25, 2010. The Congress is the second of its kind, the first was held in Barcelona in 2006 and was attended by more than 1500 public health nutrition related professionals and researchers.

The aim of the II World Congress of Public Health Nutrition is for it to be the forum for the presentation and discussion of the most recent advances in human nutrition and its intimate relationships to health and wellbeing of the world populations. The scientific programme has been prepared by the leading world specialists in Public Health Nutrition. Each session at the Congress has been designed to capture the variety of viewpoints in food and nutrition from both worldwide and local perspectives. For more information, please visit: http://nutrition2010.com.pt.

About the symposium speakers:

Professor Andrew Renwick OBE, PhD, DSc, Emeritus Professor, School of Medicine, University of Southampton (Southampton, UK)

Professor Renwick’s work on species differences and human variability in metabolism and kinetics in relation to the safety factors used in risk assessment led to WHO-IPCS initiatives to develop chemical-specific adjustment factors. In 2002 he received the George H. Scott Memorial Award from the Toxicology Forum. He retired from the University of Southampton in September 2004.

He has published over 160 original research papers and 35 book chapters and other contributions on the metabolic fate of medicines and other foreign chemicals, on what happens to chemicals in the body, on food chemical safety and on low-calorie sweeteners. He has served as a member of a number of UK Government Advisory Committees, and he was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the New Years Honours List in 2000. He was a member of the EFSA Contaminants Panel for 2 years and has attended JECFA as a WHO temporary advisor for the past 9 years.

Professor Renwick’s symposium presentation topic: The safety of low-calorie sweeteners.

Dr Adam Drewnowski, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology and Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington (Seattle, US)

Dr Adam Drewnowski is the Director of the Nutritional Science Program and the Director of the Centers for Public Health Nutrition and for Obesity Research. He is a joint member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Dr Drewnowski’s research deals with taste, satiation, and satiety and their impact on food choice, diets and health. He has published on the role of added sugars and fats in the global obesity epidemic. He is the creator of the Nutrient Rich Foods Index, a formal system to rank foods based on their nutritional value and the Affordable Nutrition Index, which helps to identify healthy and affordable foods. The Seattle Obesity Study (S.O.S.), led by Dr Drewnowski, examines how disparities in access to healthy, affordable foods affect obesity, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome. Dr Drewnowski was awarded the French 2005 Esprit Alimentaire Prize and is a member of the Institute of Medicine Standing Committee to Prevent Childhood Obesity.

Dr Drewnowski’s symposium presentation topic: Low-calorie sweeteners for weight control and diabetes management.

Professor Ragnar E. Löfstedt, Professor of Risk Management and the Director of King’s Centre of Risk Management, King’s College (London, UK)

Ragnar Löfstedt teaches and conducts research on risk communication and management.

He has undertaken research in areas such as renewable energy policy, food safety issues, pharmaceutical recalls, telecommunications, biosafety, and the siting of building of incinerators, nuclear waste installations and railways.

Professor Löfstedt is the author/editor of ten books and over 90 peer reviewed articles, is the editor-in-chief for Journal of Risk Research, editor of the Earthscan publications’ Risk, Society and Policy book series, and is on several editorial boards including the Journal of Health Communication, International Journal of Risk Assessment and Management, and Risk Management. He is a member of EFSA’s Advisory Group on Risk Communication. In 2000 he received the Chauncey Starr award for exceptional contributions in the field of risk analysis for someone under the age of 40 from the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA), and in 2005 he was elected fellow of SRA. In 2006 he was presented with the Outstanding Service Award from SRA.

Professor Löfstedt’s symposium presentation topic: Risk communication and the role of media in generating food safety alarm

Dr Carlo LaVecchia, Chief of Epidemiology, Mario Negri Institute (Milan, Italy)

Dr LaVecchia received his medical degree from the University of Milan and a master of science degree in clinical epidemiology from Oxford University, UK. He is recognized worldwide as a leading authority in cancer etiology and epidemiology (and public health in general) with over 1,470 peer reviewed papers published. Dr LaVecchia serves as an editor for numerous clinical and epidemiologic journals.

Dr LaVecchia is also an Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt Medical Center and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and of Epidemiology at the University of Lausanne, CH as well as on the faculty of Medicine at the University of Milan. He is a temporary advisor at the International Agency for Research on Cancer IARC/WHO and at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

Professor Josep Antoni Tur Mari, Professor of Physiology, University of the Balearic Islands (Palma de Mallorca, Spain)

Professor of Physiology and General Secretary of the Health Sciences and Biology Department and Director of Community Nutrition and Oxidative Stress Research Group, University of the Balearic Islands, Spain. Doctor of Pharmacy by Universitat de Barcelona and Founder of the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Food Sciences and Member of the Royal Catalan Academy of Pharmacy. Professor Tur Mari is a Founder and Member of the Board Directors of the Spanish Society of Community Nutrition and the NGO Nutrition without Borders.

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