Caffeine is turning up in some unexpected places.
The stimulant is being added to food products such as candy and chewing gum, trail mix and potato chips, so the Food and Drug Administration is right to take a fresh look at the impact of its easy availability on the health of children. The agency hasn't evaluated the safety of caffeine since the 1950s, when it approved it in colas. Things have changed since then. The FDA needs to catch up.
It's already investigating the safety of energy drinks based on reports mentioning them in a handful of deaths and serious conditions such as heart attacks and convulsions. The FDA's recent announcement that it will also evaluate the health impacts of caffeine in food products was apparently prompted by this week's introduction of Wrigley's caffeinated Alert Energy Gum. The overwhelming majority of caffeine is still ingested in beverages, but everyday food products are proving to be a source more attractive to children.
An adult can safely consume about 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, according to the FDA, roughly the amount in three to seven cups of coffee. Less is known about how much children can safely consume, except that it's not as much as adults. Most coffee drinkers know when they've overdone it: The jitters, a racing heart, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, nervousness and dizziness are sure signs.
Caffeine doesn't have to appear on the labels of products where it occurs naturally, such as coffee and tea. But the FDA does require listing it on labels as an ingredient in products where it's artificially added. The FDA needs to determine if this current labeling requirement provides the public with enough information and whether there are safety concerns that warrant limiting the amount of caffeine companies can add to their products.
The public needs to know the risks for caffeinated kids.