Sugar consumption and ways to reduce it are current hot topics in the policy arena. Professor Jason Halford (Chair of Biological Psychology and Health Behaviours at the University of Leeds), was pleased to co-host a summer school course “Sweeteners: health, obesity, safety and sustainability” in San Sebastián Spain in late June, alongside local hosts J. Alfredo Martínez, S Navas Carretero and fellow Prinicpal Project Investigarors J Harrold and A Raben.

The course focused on the SWEET project, a European Commission Horizon 2020 funded, 5 year multidisciplinary initiative with a consortium of 29 pan-European research, consumer and industry partners, focused on reviewing and developing evidence on long term benefits and potential risks involved in switching over to sweeteners and sweetness enhancers (S&SEs) in the context of public health and safety, obesity, and sustainability.  Stakeholders from across the food chain — consumers, patients, health professionals, scientists and industry partners — have been working together in the project to understand and assess  the roles of sweeteners in weight control, and potentially move viable products to market.

The hybrid course, which was offered face to face at the beautiful Palacio Mirimar and online to registered delegates within the University of the Basque Country higher education system, began with a look at evidence on the role of sweeteners in appetite and metabolism emerging from systematic reviews and a review of the current research around the role of alternate sweeteners in body weight regulation and glycemic control, and discussion of the inaccuracies that surround this issue. We then looked at sweet taste and its hedonic impact on food intake, on human microbiota and metabolic health.

The course also looked at synergies within high impact sweeteners using sweetness receptor analysis and the production, efficacy and safety of novel plant based sweeteners and sweetener blends. Participants heard about the challenges of substituting alternate sweetener products for sucrose in baking, and in food and beverage products.

After learning about the role of social media and masse media in shaping and sharing sweetener risks and benefits and looking at ways of communicating accurately about scientific work using digital media platforms, we heard about the fascinating — and complex area of sustainability in switching to alternate sweeteners.

Professor Halford said “The SWEET summer school course was well received, and of course it was wonderful to gather the consortium for a face to face General Assembly meeting for the first time since January 2020, when we met at the University of Surrey (UK) at Roehampton. We are rightfully proud of the progress made by the consortium in spite of the COVID19 pandemic. Thank you to our local hosts and to all of the course faculty and delegates for an excellent educational experience and project meeting.”