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Concern Brewing over Caffeinated Snacks

Caffeinated chewing gum from Wrigley’s is off the market, but caffeine-infused gummy bears, waffles, sunflower seeds and potato chips remain.

These items are among a growing range of food products where – depending on the brand – caffeine has been added for its energy boosting effect. In response to this escalating trend, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched an investigation into the safety of caffeine in food, in particular, its effects on young people.

“We need to better understand caffeine consumption and use patterns and determine what is a safe level for total consumption of caffeine. Importantly, we need to address the types of products that are appropriate for the addition of caffeine, especially considering the potential for consumption by young children and adolescents,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine in a posting on the agency’s Consumer Updates page.

The FDA is already looking into the safety of caffeinated energy drinks and energy shots, a study prompted by reports of deaths that may have links to consumption of the beverages. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster and 5-Hour Energy ranges from 75 milligrams to over 200 milligrams per serving. Consumption of these and other highly caffeinated beverages can boost heart rate and blood pressure and cause dehydration. These drinks can also mask the effects of alcohol when the two are combined and give drinkers the impression that they are not impaired.

According to the FDA, healthy adults can consume 400 milligrams of caffeine daily – about four or five cups of coffee – and generally not suffer any ill effects. The agency has not determined a safe level for children, but the American Academy of Pediatrics says caffeine can affect developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems and discourages its consumption (and that of other stimulants) by youngsters and adolescents.

The FDA announcement follows last spring’s arrival of Wrigley’s Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, each piece of which contained as much caffeine as half a cup of coffee. Wrigley’s has agreed to temporarily halt production of Alert until the FDA completes its investigation, but other brands of caffeinated gum remain on store shelves.

Manufacturers of caffeinated foods say adults are the targeted consumers, but there are no age restrictions on the sale of these products. Children and teens can purchase them, and with caffeine turning up in food items such as jelly beans and popcorn, critics say they may actually be encouraged to do so.

Check ingredient labels and tell your children to check ingredient labels if you have concerns about caffeine consumption.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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