Professor Richard Murphy of the Centre for Environment and Sustainability (CES) at the University of Surrey has provided us with information on this EC-funded project which began in the autumn of 2018. Richard leads the Sustainability assessment workpackage of SWEET which is using an innovative Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) approach to evaluating the ‘sustainability footprint’ of selected sweeteners and sweetness enhancers (S&SEs) in example food products. The sustainability footprint includes the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability and is calculated on a ‘whole life cycle’ basis that includes all stages in the supply and use of S&SEs from purification and manufacture of the ingredients (including agriculture) through to formulation, use in food product(s) and all energy, transport, wastes etc that occurs across the entire spectrum of production, supply and use. Once evaluated, these sustainability footprints will be compared with those for conventional sugars (from sugar cane and sugar beet) so that we can reach a clear, evidence-based, evaluation of the sustainability potential of using S&SEs for sugar replacement in European diets. Because of the integrated and comprehensive research being undertaken in SWEET, a unique opportunity in the sustainability assessment is its ability to include modelling of the potential health benefits of lower sugar diets (e.g. on obesity, diabetes) into the overall project assessment.

SWEET is a new study, led by researchers from the Universities of Liverpool and Copenhagen, to identify the risks and benefits of sugar replacements in European diets. SWEET, a European Commission Horizon 2020 funded project, is supported by a consortium of 29 pan-European research, consumer and industry partners, who will develop and review evidence on the long term benefits and potential risks involved in switching over to S&SEs in the context of public health and safety, obesity, and sustainability.

The five year multidisciplinary project engages stakeholders from across the food chain — consumers, patients, health professionals, scientists, policy makers, and regulators — to address the role of sweeteners in weight control, and potentially move viable products to market. Stakeholders, including consumers, patients, health professionals, scientists, policy makers, and regulators will be engaged in the project.

As part of the five year project, a two-year randomised controlled trial, involving recruitment of 660 adults and children with overweight or obesity from four European countries (Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands and Spain), will be conducted. Trial participants will undertake a two-month weight loss diet. During this period, they will be randomised to one of two treatment types. Both groups will receive dietary advice on existing recommendation to reduce consumption of added sugars by 10%. However, one group will be allowed to consume food and drink with sweeteners, whereas the other group will not.

Jo Harrold, Project co-ordinator from the University of Liverpool’s Department of Psychological Sciences, said:

Obesity has emerged as a major health issue across Europe and around the world. An investigation of the effects of sugar replacements on appetite and food choice on this scale has never been undertaken. Our study will adopt a multidisciplinary approach to examining the impact of prolonged sugar replacement on weight control, appetite and energy intake. Understanding the effectiveness of alternative sweeteners will help shape best practice in the future when it comes to weight management.