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Marketed to Adults, but Hurting Kids? FDA Launches Investigation Into Foods With Added Caffeine

Once upon a time, when a person needed a morning jump-start or a midday pick-me-up, they reached for a cup of coffee. These days, though, coffee has some serious competition; weary folks can now choose from an array of amped-up foodstuffs, including gum, concentrated energy shots, candy, and even caffeinated Cracker Jacks.

Michael Taylor, the FDA‘s deputy commissioner of foods, said that the only time the FDA explicitly approved the practice of adding caffeine to a food or drink was in the 1950s when it allowed the stimulant to be included in cola. The current prevalence of caffeine-filled foods is “beyond anything FDA envisioned,” Taylor said. “It is disturbingWe’re concerned about whether they have been adequately evaluated.”

The governing body is especially concerned when it comes to the effects of such foods on children; while kids aren’t likely to seek out a boring cup of joe, they may be more apt to grab a bag of jolt-inducing jelly beans. The American Academy of Pediatrics has linked caffeine to harmful effects on young people’s still-developing neurological and cardiovascular systems. So, while the FDA is already investigating the safety of energy drinks and energy shots (thanks to consumer reports of illness and death), the organization has decided to go a step further and look specifically at the foods’ effects on children.

Companies that manufacture and market caffeinated foods say that their products are intended for — and marketed to — adults. Wrigley, which recently released Alert Energy Gum (40 milligrams of caffeine per piece), pointed out that packages of the gum are labeled “for adult use only.” A spokesperson for the company said, “Millions of Americans consume caffeine responsibly and in moderation as part of their daily routines.”

While that may be, critics say it’s not enough for companies to say they are marketing the products to adults, who are capable of making more informed decisions about the amount of caffeine they consume, when the foods themselves are clearly attractive (and readily available) to children. In a letter to the FDA, Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said of such foods: “One serving of any of these foods isn’t likely to harm anyone. The concern is that it will be increasingly easy to consume caffeine throughout the day, sometimes unwittingly, as companies add caffeine to candies, nuts, snacks and other foods.”

In acknowledgement that the consumption of one caffeinated item may not cause adverse effects, the probe will focus on the effects of added caffeine in its totality, and whether the increasing number of caffeinated products on the market might mean more adverse health effects for children.

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