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Hidden caffeine gives kids a jolt

June 16, 2003|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

Adults know when they reach for their morning cup of coffee that they're in for a caffeine-induced jolt. What they may not know is that kids could be consuming a surprising amount of the stimulant themselves.

Some sodas, ice creams and snacks pack an unexpected caffeine wallop, according to a new study by Consumer Reports magazine.

The study tested 25 products likely to be consumed by children and found that an 8-ounce serving of Coke, Pepsi or Sunkist Orange Soda has about 25 milligrams of caffeine -- or about a quarter of the maximum daily limit most nutrition experts recommend for children.

Although little research has been done with children and caffeine, most experts say exceeding 100 milligrams a day can cause anxiety, tension and sleeplessness in youngsters. Even higher amounts can lead to nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhea.

"We did this study to give parents a heads-up about caffeine," said Linda Greene, who supervised the study for Consumer Reports. "I don't think a lot of people are aware of how much are in some products."

Caffeine affects children and adults in different ways, doctors and nutritionists say. Its ultimate impact depends on a person's body weight, his built-up tolerance to it, and his inherent sensitivity to the substance.

Another reason behind the study, published in the July issue, was to put pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to require caffeine labeling on all food products, Greene said. Currently, food manufacturers only have to show that caffeine is present when they've added it to the product, which is sometimes done to enrich flavor. But the manufacturer doesn't have to specify how much caffeine was added, she said.

The FDA is reviewing a proposal to require labels to identify the amount of caffeine in a particular product.

"There's no question that [caffeine] labeling would help parents make better dietary choices," said Brenda Eskenazi, a professor of epidemiology at UC Berkeley and director of the Center for Children's Environmental Health Research. "This is the most common psychoactive drug in our food and we aren't even allowed to know how much of it is in there."

Parents should carefully monitor their children's intake of food and drinks known to contain caffeine, such as sodas and chocolates, in which the stimulant occurs naturally, the study's authors said.

"There's no reason for kids to be drinking all that caffeine," Greene said. "And it's fairly easy to modify their diets to avoid it. It's not like telling them they can never eat chocolate again."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The caffeine count

A look at a few products and the amount of caffeine they contain:

*--* Drinks (8-ounce serving) Mg Red Fusion 38 Mountain Dew 37 Pepsi 27 Coca-Cola Classic 24 Sunkist Orange Soda 23 SoBe Energy Citrus Flavored Beverage 25

*--*

*--* Snacks Mg Dannon Natural Flavors Low Fat Coffee Flavored Yogurt (6 oz.) 36 Starbucks Coffee Java Chip Ice Cream ( 1/2 cup) 28 M&M's Milk Chocolate Candies ( 1/4 cup) 8 Hershey's Syrup, Chocolate Flavor (2 tablespoons) 5

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Source: Consumer Reports

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