In an effort to protect children and adolescents from the risks of consuming large amounts of caffeine, a group of doctors, researchers, and public health experts wrote to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging the agency to take action on energy drinks.
The group told Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, FDA commissioner, “There is evidence in the published scientific literature that the caffeine levels in energy drinks pose serious potential health risks,” according to The New York Times.
The letter goes on to say “there is neither sufficient evidence of safety nor a consensus of scientific opinion to conclude that the high levels of added caffeine in energy drinks are safe under the conditions of their intended use, as required by the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) standards for food additives.” The letter urges the FDA to apply the same standards to energy drinks that apply to caffeinated sodas and to require manufacturers to include caffeine content on the label.
Energy drink makers insist their products are safe and contain levels of caffeine on a par with coffee. According to the FDA, adults can safely consume about 400 milligrams of caffeine daily. A 16-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee has about 330 milligrams of caffeine, an amount about twice that of some similarly sized energy drinks, The New York Times says. But the experts are concerned about what constitutes a safe level of caffeine for younger consumers, whose size and metabolism is different from adults.
In their letter to Dr. Hamburg, the group raised concerns about aggressive marketing of energy drinks to young teenagers, the Times writes, and they cited research showing a sharp rise in the number of reported emergency-room visits in which an energy drink was cited as the primary cause of a health problem. In 2011, the Times reports, there were 20,783 such visits, compared with 10,068 in 2007.
Problems typically linked to excessive caffeine consumption can include anxiety, insomnia, headaches, irregular heartbeats and heart attacks. The letter also pointed out that energy drink consumption has been implicated in a number of injuries and deaths reported to the FDA.