Last week, I looked at the Food and Drug Administration’s new investigation into the effects of large amounts of caffeine, particularly upon children’s health. In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that children ages 6 to 10 consumed caffeine eight out of 10 days on average.
Caffeine overdose might sound surreal to normal coffee-drinking adults, but the FDA is rightly asking: What happens when caffeine consumption levels are high in children and teens – those whose bodies are smaller and systems are developing?
Not only are America’s kids amped on energy drinks and 5-hour energy shots, but also caffeine is being added to a host of food products and snacks, such as jelly beans, marshmallows, sunflower seeds and oatmeal.
Here are a few more caffeine-laced eatables you can find in your grocery: Alert energy gum (with 40 milligrams of caffeine per piece), Wired Waffles (with 200 milligrams of caffeine each), Perky Jerky (with 150 milligrams of caffeine in a 2-ounce pack), Arma potato chips (with 70 milligrams of caffeine per 2-ounce bag), PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay reinvention Cracker Jack’D (with 70 milligrams of caffeine in a 2-ounce bag) and AeroShot caffeine inhaler (with 100 milligrams of caffeine).
It’s pure lunacy that most of these products are marketed to children and teenagers, even though manufacturers say they are not.
Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, explained in a statement to The Associated Press that caffeine has the regulatory classification of “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, which means manufacturers can add it to products and decide on their own whether levels of it are safe within their products.
But, Taylor added, with the explosion of caffeine at heightened levels in so many products, “this raises questions about how the GRAS concept is working and is it working adequately.”
Taylor explained that the FDA places a limit of 400 milligrams a day – equivalent to about four or five cups of coffee – as “an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects” for healthy adults. However, the FDA never has set safe levels for children.
Nevertheless, there are some facts that we definitively know about caffeine; we don’t need to wait on a study’s results.
Despite the fact that health science has shown that coffee packs some great antioxidants and that caffeine in moderation has some limited benefits for healthy adults, excessive amounts of the synthetic stimulant can become hazardous to anyone, particularly children.
The World Health Organization recognizes caffeine intoxication as a medical condition. Symptoms include nervousness, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, tremors and rapid heartbeat, according to the U.K.’s Daily Mail.
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics admonished that children and teenagers should never use caffeine, because the stimulant increases blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety, impairs sleep and hydration and could negatively affect a child’s developing cardiovascular and neurological systems.
And let’s not forget that caffeine is defined as a “mildly addictive drug” by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a “psychoactive drug” by other experts.
And remember, as Dr. Steven Meredith at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explained: “Energy drinks contain quite a bit of caffeine and (are) consumed relatively rapidly. You don’t chug a cup of hot coffee before you go out and play football.”
That is why WebMD asks: “Studies suggest that up to 300 milligrams of caffeine daily is safe for kids. But is it smart? Many kids are sensitive to caffeine, developing temporary anxiety or irritability, with a ‘crash’ afterwards. Also, most caffeine that kids drink is in sodas, energy drinks or sweetened teas, all of which have high sugar content. These empty calories put kids at higher risk for obesity.”
And what about any further effects caffeine might have upon the complexities of autism, ADHD and various mental disorders?
Dr. Jack James, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Caffeine Research and head of the department of psychology at Reykjavik University, told the Daily Mail that caffeine was a contributing factor in 6,309 cases of “substantial harm, including fatalities and near-fatalities” that America’s National Poison Data System was notified of in 2011.
And the annual number of emergency room visits associated with energy drinks soared 36 percent, to 20,000, in 2011 compared with the previous year, according to a report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
That is why James issued the universal warning that caffeine’s “lethality” is being underestimated around the world, especially because it’s being consumed in such high amounts. He added, “Caffeine is so dangerous that it should be regulated like alcohol and cigarettes.”
James strongly advises that kids have no more than 75 milligrams of caffeine daily.
What the FDA decides to do with U.S. food and beverage companies is one thing. But we are responsible for our children and their diets. So look at product labels and ingredients. If they include caffeine, find a healthy alternative. And be prepared next for companies to start hiding caffeine under healthier-sounding pseudonyms.
Next week, I will give you some healthy and even tasty energy-boosting alternatives for you and your family.