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Red Fusion soda.Caffeinated kids

True or false: A cup of Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream has more caffeine than a can of Coke. Reward yourself with a spoonful of ice cream if you said "true."

We discovered that fact during a recent analysis of the caffeine content of 25 products. The results indicate that people, especially children, can easily consume enough caffeine to leave them jittery and anxious. And because foods and drinks are not required to list how much caffeine they contain, it can be hard to gauge how much you or your kids are getting. Some of the products we tested, such as iced teas and colas, are obvious caffeine carriers. But you might be surprised by the amount hidden in others:

• Mountain Dew has more caffeine than Coke or Pepsi; Sunkist Orange has nearly as much as the colas, though Minute Maid Orange has none.

• Trendy vitamin waters can harbor caffeine, too. Ounce for ounce, Glacéau Vitaminwater Energy Tropical Citrus has about twice as much caffeine as Nestea Iced Tea.

• A 9.5-fluid-ounce bottle of Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino, a sweet, milky drink, delivers almost as much caffeine as three 12-ounce cans of Coke.

• An 8.4-ounce can of the energy drink AMP has about three times as much caffeine as the same amount of SoBe Energy Citrus Flavored Beverage. Many energy drinks (and some fortified waters) also include guarana, a caffeine-containing herb, and ginseng, which may intensify caffeine’s effects.

In addition to our analysis of caffeine content, we held taste tests to see whether students preferred regular Coca-Cola Classic or Pepsi to their caffeine-free counterparts (see below).


HEALTH EFFECTS

Although thousands of studies of caffeine have been conducted, relatively few have involved youngsters. From what is known, caffeine seems to have the same effects on kids and teenagers as on adults. "At low doses, it produces an increase in wakefulness, alertness, feelings of energy, and sociability," says Roland Griffiths, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University. "As you increase the dose, you get into anxiety, insomnia, and tension. Raise it further and you get into things like nausea and upset stomach."

Children testing the taste of caffeinated and caffeine-free soda.

TASTE TEST Manufacturers say that caffeine adds flavor. To test that claim, we had 56 students at a middle school near our headquarters, in Yonkers, N.Y., do blind taste tests of Coke and Pepsi versus their caffeine-free versions. There was no clear-cut preference; some kids actually liked the caffeine-free colas better. In similar tests a few years ago, most kids couldn’t differentiate between other brands of regular and caffeine-free soda.

Joan Carter Clark, a registered dietician and an instructor in the pediatrics department at Baylor College of Medicine, says, "Moderate amounts should not be a concern for most children, but your child may not be most children."

Indeed, the amount needed to produce adverse effects varies with body weight, tolerance built up through use, and innate sensitivity to caffeine. Some experts suggest upper limits for kids: no more than 100 milligrams per day, for example, which is about the amount in three cans of Coke.

That amount might not be hard to consume, even in a short time. A can of Mountain Dew, a cup of Starbucks Coffee Java Chip ice cream, and a half-cup of M&M’s have a total of 128 mg of caffeine. A dose of more than 4.5 mg per pound of body weight, or at least 180 mg for a 40-pound child, can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and muscle twitching.

The Canadian government makes caffeine recommendations by age: no more than 45 mg per day for 4- to 6-year-olds; 62.5 mg per day for 7- to 9-year-olds, and 85 mg per day for 10- to 12-year-olds. (For adults, 300 mg--the amount in 2 to 3 cups of brewed coffee--is considered a moderate intake.)

But the experts we consulted don’t find such limits useful. "There are just not enough data to go on," says John Hughes, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont who has studied behavioral effects produced by caffeine.

In the absence of agreed-upon limits, it makes sense to minimize a child’s caffeine intake. That task would be far easier if amounts were shown on labels. Manufacturers must list caffeine among the ingredients only if they’ve added it; even then, they need not list the amount. Of the products we analyzed, only AMP Energy Drink says "not recommended for children."

In 1997 Griffiths, Hughes, and other researchers, along with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit nutrition-advocacy group, petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require that labels specify caffeine amounts. Their petitions are still under review.

What you can do

Opt for the lower-caffeine or caffeine-free foods and drinks we’ve listed in Caffeine: Where is it hiding?, available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers, or look for decaffeinated products. Decaffeinated means that at least 97 percent of a product’s naturally occurring caffeine has been removed. Other steps you can take:

• If you drink caffeinated soda, choose the smallest size rather than the increasingly common 20-ounce bottles, and avoid 32-, 42-, and 64-ounce "supersized" servings sold in some fast-food restaurants, movie theaters, and convenience stores.

• Consider limiting intake of products flavored with coffee or chocolate, which may have caffeine even if it’s not listed on the label. Chocolate also contains the stimulant theobromine, a milder cousin of caffeine.

• Choose milk chocolate, which has less caffeine than dark chocolate (about 3 to 10 mg per 1.4-ounce serving vs. 28 mg), or chocolate-coated candy, which is likely to have less caffeine than solid chocolate.

• Urge the FDA to require that food and beverage labels specify caffeine content. To comment, visit www.fda.gov/opacom/backgrounders/voice.html.



Caffeine: Where is it hiding?

Since the amount of caffeine is not labeled, it’s easy to consume a lot without knowing it. Just check out the numbers below, taken from our analysis. The "surprise" photos show products whose caffeine content might be unexpected. We’ve standardized drink sizes for easy comparison, but be aware that these sizes are modest and are often less than the full container. (The smallest soda can, for instance, generally holds 12 fluid ounces.) And hardly anyone stops at a half-cup of ice cream, even though that’s the federal government’s official serving size.

Sodas
Sunkist Orange Soda.
SURPRISE
Sunkist Orange Soda,
23 mg per 8 fl. oz.
With caffeine
Caffeine, 8 fl. oz.
Red Fusion
38 mg
Mountain Dew
37
dnL
27
Pepsi
27
Pepsi Blue Berry Cola Fusion
26
Coca-Cola Classic
24
Vanilla Coke
21
Barq's Famous Olde Tyme Root Beer
15
Caffeine-free
Minute Maid Orange, Slice, Sprite, 7-Up, Mug Root Beer. No-caffeine versions of Mountain Dew, Barq's, and other sodas.


Other drinks
Glaceau Vitaminwater Energy Tropical Citrus.
SURPRISE
Glacéau Vitaminwater Energy Tropical
Citrus (C+ginseng),
21 mg per 8 fl. oz.
With caffeine
Caffeine, 8 fl. oz.
Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino
83 mg
AMP Energy Drink

77

Red Bull Energy Drink

70

Elements Atomic Jacked Apple Juice Drink

33

SoBe Energy Citrus Flavored Beverage

25

Snapple Lemon Iced Tea

19

Nestea Iced Tea Sweetened Lemon

10

Nestle Carnation Rich Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix

2
Caffeine-free
Herbal iced tea, lemonade, fruit juice, milk, tap or plain bottled water.



Snacks
Dannon Natural Flavors Low Fat Coffee Flavored Yogurt.

SURPRISE
Dannon Natural Flavors Low Fat Coffee Flavored Yogurt, 6-oz. container, 36 mg.

With caffeine
Caffeine

Starbucks Coffee Java Chip Ice Cream, 1/2 cup

28 mg

Häagen-Dazs Coffee Ice Cream, 1/2 cup

24

M&M's Milk Chocolate Candies, 1/4 cup

8

Hershey's Kisses Milk Chocolate, 9 pieces

5

Hershey's Syrup Genuine Chocolate Flavor, 2 tbsp.
5

   Breyers All Natural Chocolate Ice Cream, 1/2 cup

3

Reformulated recently. New version unavailable in time for testing.

Caffeine-free
Candies without chocolate. Any ice cream, sorbet, sherbet, or yogurt without coffee or chocolate.


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