July 13, 2008

Scientists Petition FDA to Require Caffeine Content Labeling

Posted in Pro-seminar assignments at 6:58 pm by shhville

On a breezy afternoon in Brookline, Karen Rizman, 59, is sitting at her kitchen table, reminiscing about her love affair with Diet Pepsi.

“It had to be in a can,” she says, “And it had to be ice cold. From the minute I got up in the morning, all day long I kept going back for that Pepsi. I didn’t realize I was addicted until I tried to stop drinking it and I couldn’t.”

After struggling through what she describes as “horrible withdrawal,” including headaches, nervousness, and “jitters,” Karen Rizman did stop drinking Diet Pepsi at 25 and now tries to avoid caffeine altogether, with the exception of chocolate.

Rizman’s experience is not unusual because most Americans don’t realize how much caffeine they are consuming, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The group has filed a petition with the FDA, asking the government to require food and beverage companies to include caffeine content on their product labels. They have also asked that the FDA conduct a comprehensive investigation into the health effects of caffeine, which is a common additive in sodas and energy drinks, as well as some ice creams and yogurts.

According to the petition, which was signed by 34 scientists and ten health and consumer groups and cites over 40 scientific studies, the risks associated with caffeine include reduced fertility, miscarriage, low birth weight, anxiety, sleeplessness, calcium imbalance – which can contribute to osteoporosis – and unpleasant side effects of ceasing caffeine consumption.

“Caffeine is the only drug that is widely added to the food supply,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, at a press conference in Washington, D.C., according to a press release, “and consumers have a right to know how much caffeine various foods contain. Knowing the caffeine content is important to many people — especially women who are or might become pregnant — who might want to limit or avoid caffeine.”

A chart provided by CSPI lists the caffeine content (mg) per serving of 90 foods and beverages. The products range from a Spike Shooter energy drink with a whopping 300 mg of caffeine per 8.4 oz. serving to Snapple Peach tea with 42 mg per 16 oz. bottle and Sprite which contains no caffeine at all.

Some of the products on the list are more surprising than others. An energy drink called Cocaine may be expected to contain 280 mg of caffeine per 8.4 oz. can, but a sweet, lemony soda like Mountain Dew turns out to contain its fair share as well, with 54 mg per 12 oz. serving. According to CSPI’s press release, Sunkist Orange Soda, which does not appear on the caffeine chart, contains 40 mg of caffeine in every can.

“This all comes down to the consumer’s right to know,” said Lisa Cox, program and policies director at the National Women’s Health Network, according to the press release. “When a food contains an ingredient linked to health problems, labels should disclose to shoppers the amount of that ingredient.”

Not everyone is convinced of the usefulness of caffeine labeling, however. Nicola Ferrante, 33, of Boston, stops at Starbucks for a cup of coffee (320 mg/16 oz.) every morning on her way to work. She thinks that too much is being made of the risks of caffeine.

“It’s like anything else,” she says. “A little bit is good, too much is bad, don’t drink it if you’re pregnant. Caffeine is the least of our problems. I mean, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t know that Coke has caffeine in it, then you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care anyway.”

But to Karen Rizman, who is raising her 17-year-old son, Matt, to be aware of food additives such as high fructose corn syrup and trans fats, caffeine content labels sound like a good idea.

“I don’t let Matt drink energy drinks,” she says. “I think they’re dangerous. And I just found out that caffeine is one of the main ingredients in Excedrin. Someone told me that, I had no idea. I don’t take it anymore.”

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