Aspartame study findings published by the Hull York Medical School

The Food Standards Agency is today publishing the findings of a study carried out by Hull York Medical School, determining reactions to aspartame in people who have reported symptoms in the past compared to people with no reported symptoms. The study is also being published in the peer reviewed, open access journal, PLOS ONE.

The study concluded that the participants who were self-diagnosed as sensitive to aspartame showed no difference in their response after consuming a cereal bar, whether it contained aspartame or not. The study looked at various factors including psychological testing, clinical observations, clinical biochemistry and also metabolomics (which is the scientific study of small molecules generated by the process of metabolism).

The Hull/York paper was peer reviewed by the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) in December 2013. COT concluded that ‘the results presented did not indicate any need for action to protect the health of the public’.

Guy Poppy, FSA Chief Scientific Advisor, said: ‘While the best available evidence shows that aspartame can be consumed safely, a number of individuals have reported adverse reactions after consuming food and drink containing aspartame. Given this anecdotal evidence it was appropriate to see if more could be found out about these reported effects. The Hull/York study was not designed to evaluate the overall safety of aspartame as it is already an approved additive.”

The study recruited individuals who reported reactions after consuming aspartame, alongside a matched control group of individuals who normally consume foods containing aspartame without problems. The aspartame was given in a cereal bar so that individuals could not distinguish between bars containing aspartame and the control bars.

The work took the form of a double blind randomised crossover study, the gold standard of scientific research. This type of study is designed to test the effect of a substance in such a way that neither the research team nor the participants know whether the bar consumed contains the test substance or not. Double blind studies therefore eliminate the risk of prejudgment by participants or researchers which could distort the results.

In December 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published an opinion on aspartame following a full risk assessment after undertaking a rigorous review of all available scientific research on aspartame and its breakdown products, including both animal and human studies. The EFSA opinion concluded that ‘aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure’.

The FSA will share the results of this study with EFSA.

(Source: FSA website)

Written Q&A to EU Commission – Advertisements aimed at children

Question for written answer E-011157/12 to the Commission
Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE)
(6 December 2012)

Subject: Regulating advertisements aimed at children

Communication technology has changed with lightning speed in recent decades, and with this has come an increase in the ease with which children can be targeted by advertisements. Leading food and drink producers undertook some years ago that they would not in future target children with advertisements for products containing excessive amounts of fat, sugar or salt. A report published at the end of September (‘A junk-free childhood 2012’) investigated the extent to which this objective has been fulfilled. According to the study, the companies’ own data showed that the amount of advertising for unhealthy foods aimed at children had fallen by barely a quarter in the past six years, whilst in some countries it had actually increased; meanwhile, the ‘EU Pledge’, whereby six years ago a number of major European companies pledged to undertake self-regulation, had similarly failed to achieve the desired result. Most companies agree that they must restrict themselves in the area of paid online advertising, yet they do not adopt the same approach to their own homepages, which remain full of pictures of happy children, online games, puzzles and gifts to download, all of which are aimed at children.

In light of this, I would like to ask the Commission the following questions:

Does the Commission not feel that there is a need for further EU-level regulation in addition to self-imposed restrictions?
What penalties would the Commission propose putting forward for companies which violate the regulations?

Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission
(4 February 2013)

The Commission is committed to address issues related to advertising of foods high in fat, salt and/or sugar to
children and since 2007, it has promoted EU action as set out in the strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and
Obesity related Health issues (1).

The first results of the ‘EU Pledge’ — an initiative by a group of companies who pledge not to advertise food and
beverage products to children under twelve, or only to advertise products that meet specific nutrition criteria — were
highlighted in the Implementation Progress Report of December 2010 (2).

This report showed that the Pledge led to over one third less TV advertising by pledge participants. In the meantime, the Pledge was reinforced: it now includes company-owned brand websites; uses a stricter definition of ‘children’s media’ (35% of the audience is children instead of 50% as before); and developed common nutrition criteria (3) aimed at replacing the existing company-specific criteria.

Another major instrument for EU action in this area is the Audiovisual Media Service Directive 2010/13/EU (4). In this
context, the Commission supports Member States in encouraging audiovisual media service providers to set up codes
of conducts on advertising of foods to children.

The first Application Report on the directive published in May 2012 showed that this provision led most of the
Member States to set new codes or extend the existing codes. It also triggered initiatives, such as healthy food
promotion campaigns on Television and Internet. The 2nd Application Report due in 2014 will examine the
effectiveness of such codes of conduct.

⋅1∙ A Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues, COM(2007) 279.