Low-calorie sweeteners (LCSs) are commonly used to provide a sweet taste that is comparable to sugars but with reduced energy and minimal effects on glycaemia( Reference Fernstrom 1 , Reference Wiebe, Padwal and Field 2 ). As such, they have become increasingly prevalent in today's consumer market( Reference Zygler, Wasik and Namies'nik 3 ) and are often used as a weight management tool( Reference Miller and Perez 4 ) or by individuals with diabetes mellitus( Reference Wiebe, Padwal and Field 2 ). Following a stringent safety assessment, an acceptable daily intake (ADI) is usually assigned for each LCS prior to approval for use( Reference Logue, Dowey and Strain 5 ); however debate persists around the benefits and risks of LCS consumption. Dietitians’ perceptions of LCSs were recently investigated revealing a diversity of attitudes( Reference Harricharan, Wills and Metzger 6 ). However, limited scientific data are available on consumer attitudes towards LCSs and therefore the present study aimed to assess knowledge and perceptions of LCSs within an adult population.
A cross sectional study was conducted via the administration of an online survey comprising thirty-five questions designed to collect information on demographics, knowledge and perceptions of LCSs. The survey was disseminated among staff and students at the Ulster University by email and to a wider audience via social media sites. Statistical analysis, including Chi Square test, was conducted using SPSS to explore relationships between knowledge and perceptions of LCSs and P < 0·05 was considered statistically significant.
A total of 741 individuals (282 M; 459 F) completed the survey between March-July 2016. Of these, 73·5 % (n 545) reported being aware of LCSs; however, participants could identify average of 2·0 (SD; 1·9) LCSs from the list LCSs approved for use in Europe. Furthermore, the majority of participants (89·2 %; n 661) reported being unaware of an ADI for LCSs. With regards to perceptions of LCSs, 34·3 % (n = 254) were of the opinion that LCS should not be used and 20·9 % (n 155) were of the opinion that they should be used; the remainder (44·8 %; n 332) declared no opinion on LCS use. Those who were ‘aware of ADI’ were more likely to have a positive perception of LCSs than those who were unaware or unsure of ADI (Fig. 1; P < 0·001).
A high level of awareness of LCSs was observed within this population; however there appeared to be a relative lack of awareness of specific LCSs, as well as an important regulatory aspect of LCSs i.e. ADI. This was associated with a more negative perception of LCSs suggesting that improved education around LCSs might improve acceptability within the general population.