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Oops: Harvard affiliate apologizes for promotion of "weak" study

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Harvard-affiliated hospital is backing away from its decision earlier this week to promote a paper linking the artificial sweetener aspartame and cancer, now saying the evidence was "weak."

Brigham and Women's Hospital said in an e-mail to reporters that data in the paper, which was published Wednesday in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, "is weak, and that Brigham and Women's Hospital media relations was premature in the promotion of this work."

The hospital apologized to reporters for wasting their time.

Earlier this week, the hospital's public relations department promoted the study with an attention-grabbing headline: "The truth isn't sweet when it comes to artificial sweeteners."

In the study, titled "Consumption of Artificial Sweetener and Sugar Containing Soda and the Risk of Lymphoma and Leukemia in Men and Women," researchers at the hospital, including noted nutrition researcher and study co-author Dr. Walter Willett, combed through two large studies of nurses and health professionals looking for evidence of an increased risk of blood cancers related to consumption of the artificial sweetener aspartame.

When they looked at the two studies combined, they found some trends toward a higher risk of cancers that could be linked with aspartame, but the researchers admitted that the findings could also be due to chance.

The American Beverage Association shot back with a defense of aspartame, an ingredient found in many beverages and thousands of foods.

"Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly tested ingredients of all time with more than 200 scientific studies confirming its safety," the industry group said in a statement.

"It has been repeatedly reviewed and approved by regulatory agencies around the globe, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the British Food Standards Agency, the European Union Scientific Committee on Food, and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives," the group said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Eric Beech)

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