New research published this week has found an association between low-calorie beverage consumption and increased risk of stroke and dementia. According to the study by Boston University School of Medicine, consumption of just one artificially sweetened drink, such as Diet Coke, each day can triple the risk of a deadly stroke and increase the risk of developing dementia.

The news will be worrying for the soft drinks industry, which is increasingly turning to artificially sweetened formulations amid growing pressure to reduce sugar. Indeed GlobalData’s latest survey revealed that 63% of consumers globally are concerned about memory loss – a symptom linked with dementia.

The latest news will likely ring alarm bells among the many consumers turning to diet drinks to address concerns over sugar. Indeed, globally 87% of consumers are actively trying to reduce consumption of sugar, or consume it in moderation, with over half (52%) of these consumers turning to low-sugar or sugar-free soft drinks, the majority of which contain artificial sweeteners.

With less than half (43%) of consumers globally paying high attention to the type of sugar or sweetener used in food and drinks they buy; it is clear that until now the majority have been more concerned that products are low in sugar or calories than the type of ingredients used to achieve this.  

Attempts to launch naturally sweetened low-sugar options have so far proven lukewarm, with Coca-Cola recently dropping its stevia-sweetened Coke Life in the UK due to confusing messaging and poor sales. However the latest research may heighten concerns around artificial sweeteners, posing a clear challenge for soft drinks makers to find the right balance between taste and messaging for naturally sweetened beverages, especially as they continue to fight an ongoing battle against sugar.