* Studies have linked aspartame to cancer, premature births
* EFSA says one of most extensive assessments yet
BRUSSELS, Dec 10 (Reuters) - The artificial sweetener aspartame - widely used in low-calorie soft drinks - poses no health risks at currently approved consumption levels, the European Union's food safety watchdog said on Tuesday.
The finding by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will be seen as a victory for companies such as The Coca-Cola Co., which uses aspartame in Diet Coke, Coke Zero and other products.
In August, the company took out newspaper adverts in its home city of Atlanta to address consumer fears over the safety of aspartame.
Studies have linked aspartame to health risks, including cancer and premature birth, and have been blamed for a drop in sales of diet soda in the United States.
But food safety regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have called these results into question, citing data gaps in the studies and other concerns.
In its latest scientific review, Parma, Italy-based EFSA said it had found no evidence of safety concerns at the current EU "acceptable daily intake" (ADI) level for aspartame of 40 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight.
"This opinion represents one of the most comprehensive risk assessments of aspartame ever undertaken," Alicja Mortensen, chairwoman of EFSA's Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Foods (ANS Panel), said in a statement.
"It's a step forward in strengthening consumer confidence in the scientific underpinning of the EU food safety system and the regulation of food additives."
A can of diet soda usually contains about 180 milligrams of aspartame, which means that an adult weighing 75 kilograms would need to drink more than 16 cans per day to exceed the EU's ADI level. The U.S. ADI level is slightly higher at 50 mg/kg.
Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar and is also sold under the brand name NutraSweet. It was first granted EU-wide approval for food use in 1994 and has been subject to several reviews by EU and national regulators.