Kids aren't drinking enough milk. Or so say the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). Their solution to get these kids back on track? Sweeten the deal, literally. The two lobbies, whose bottom line depends in large part on reversing this trend, has filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that has landed in the Federal Register, which would amend the current list of acceptable added ingredients to school food to include "any safe and suitable sweetener."
On that list is a controversial chemical, aspartame.
In 1996, while researching my popular textbook, "Eating Disorders: A Clinical Guide to Counseling and Treatment," I found a small research article buried in the National Library of Medicine (PubMed) database. Entitled, "Adverse reactions to aspartame: double-blind challenge in patients from a vulnerable population," it details a small study done at a university in Ohio, that evaluated what happened to the mental health of individuals who consumed aspartame.
The sample size in this study is small, but it is a double-blind protocol, meaning neither researchers or subjects knew who was getting the aspartame dose and who was getting the placebo. This is one of the better research designs with this kind of investigation. The duration of the study was short, 20 days, but its results were profound. Each group received either a dose of aspartame or a placebo for 7 days, then underwent a washout period before receiving the other protocol. The dose of aspartame was roughly the equivalent of 8 cans of soda for a 110 pound person.
Here is an excerpt from the results section of the published study.
"The symptoms reported are summarized in Table 1. The severity of some of the reactions is noteworthy; three study participants spontaneously reported that they felt they had been "poisoned." One of the three to use this term felt that her symptoms were so severe that she had to discontinue the capsules-after 3 days of her second week [aspartame]. One patient, a 42-year-old PhD psychologist with a history of recurrent major depression, reported pain in his left eye, followed by retinal detachment requiring emergency surgery. On the day of his surgery (day 4 of his second [placebo] week) he discontinued his capsules and symptoms reporting. Although this event occurred during the placebo week, 6 days after the aspartame had been discontinued, another individual--0ne of the three to use the term "poisoned" experienced a conjunctival hemorrhage for the first time in her life during the aspartame week. These events led the Chairman of the IRB to halt the project."
If you follow the above link to a full copy of the study, a list of reported symptoms is provided.
The symptoms appeared to be most severe in individuals with some kind of history of depression, and the researchers therefore recommended that people with this history limit or restrict their aspartame consumption.
For school children, this study may have some interesting relevance. Milk doses would be standard, meaning smaller, younger children would be receiving the highest dose per kilogram of body weight. There is some research into early onset of mental health diagnoses. However, since it is considered unethical to expose developing children to potentially toxic substances to see what might happen, purely in the name of research, the only way we can learn these things is to expose children and wait a few years to see what happens. In other words, we have absolutely no idea what the long term effects of increasing aspartame consumption in childhood does to nervous system development or predilection to mental health issues later in life.
I don't know about my readers, but I think our children deserve more consideration than that. The more important issue here is, why have we altered our food supply so significantly that food is deemed unpalatable unless it is sweetened? Let's work on that and create ways to make milk a desirable beverage.
More information about this proposal can be found at this link.