May 1, 2013

Should kids be allowed to chew caffeinated gum?

Daily Briefing

Caffeine has slowly been creeping its way into potato chips, chocolate, jelly beans, and more—but the launch of a new chewing gum supplemented with the stimulant has grabbed the attention of the FDA and prompted an investigation into the effects of caffeinated products on children and teenagers.

This week, Wrigley's introduced its Alert Energy Caffeine Gum to the U.S. market. One strip of the gum contains 40 milligrams of caffeine—about as much as half a cup of coffee. When chewed, the caffeine is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the cheeks and under the tongue.

The new gum is far from the first food product—or even the first chewing gum—to add caffeine to its ingredient list, but it appears to have "pushed the FDA over the edge," according to NPR's Nancy Shute.  The agency has only explicitly approved the use of added caffeine in one case: In the 1950s, it allowed soft drinks to contain added caffeine as a flavor enhancement.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, caffeine can pose health risks to children and teenagers because it increases the heart rate, boosts anxiety, interferes with sleep, and dehydrates the body. Still, there is no research on the long-term effects of caffeine on youngsters, according to Johns Hopkins behavioral pharmacologist Steven Meredith.

"We've got these products like energy drinks that are marketed to children," Meredith told NPR's "The Salt," noting that energy drinks are consumed relatively rapidly. "You don't chug a cup of hot coffee before you go out and play football," he says (Shute, "The Salt," NPR, 4/30; Young, CNN, 4/30).

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