Which of these is being marketed to children?
According to their manufacturers, none of them.
The Food and Drug Administration announced last week that it’s launching an investigation into the safety of caffeine in food products, particularly its effects on children. Surprisingly, the agency doesn’t have any rules for caffeine in food. It classifies caffeine as a GRAS, an acronym for food additives that are Generally Recognized As Safe. Any additive with the GRAS designation—and there are more than 4,500 of them—is exempt from safety testing when a manufacturer adds it to a new product.
Caffeine’s GRAS designation dates back to 1958.
The proliferation of caffeinated foods, not beverages, is something new.
Caffeine has been popping up in the most unlikely of places. You can find it added to breakfast foods like instant oatmeal, frozen waffles, and pancake syrup. It’s being added to snack foods like potato chips, marshmallows, sunflower seeds, beef jerky, Jelly Belly ‘extreme sport’ jelly beans, and most recently a new line of caffeinated Wrigley’s chewing gum.
Caffeine is now consumed at levels that the FDA could have never anticipated when it first classified the additive as a GRAS.
In 1958, there were no energy drinks, sports beverages, or caffeinated ‘smart’ waters. Per capita soda consumption was one-third of today’s level. And now we have caffeine’s appearance in a wide range of new products, including foods that are especially appealing to children and teens.
We keep things loose when it comes to kids and caffeine.
The United States doesn’t have dietary guidelines for caffeine consumption for adults or children. Since we don’t know how much is too much, there’s little effort made to limit it. In theory, caffeine-added products aren’t supposed to be marketed to children, but it’s up to the manufacturers, advertisers, and trade associations to regulate it. Most manufacturers insist that they don’t target kids. Apparently they’re using kid-friendly cartoon mascots and logos to push caffeinated gummy bears and pixy stix to adults.
Where have we heard that one before?