Despite industry claims energy drinks contain no more caffeine than Starbucks coffee, a group of top US health professionals tells the FDA energy caffeine content differs in ‘three important ways’ and says the agency should apply GRAS standards for soda to added-caffeine energy drinks.
The American Beverage Association disagrees, and a spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com: “Most energy drinks contain about half the caffeine of a similarly-sized cup of coffeehouse coffee and the body of scientific evidence does not suggest that energy drinks cause adverse health outcomes.”
In their Tuesday letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, the doctors referred to scientific, political and consumer concern on the safety of what they described as “highly caffeinated energy drinks”.
(Largest US energy manufacturer Monster Energy recently claimed via its attorney that a 16oz can contains only 160mg of caffeine, roughly half that of a 16oz cup of coffeehouse-brewed coffee (330mg)).
“As researchers, scientists, clinicians, and public health professionals who have studied and conducted research on energy drinks, we are writing this letter to summarize the scientific evidence on this issue and encourage action,” the 18 signatories state.
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They include Amelia Arria (University of Maryland School of Public Health) Mary Claire O’Brien (Wake Forest School of Medicine), Roland Griffiths (John Hopkins University School of Medicine).
The professionals used their own research and scientific papers to assess caffeine levels in energy drinks, links to fatalities and injuries, emergency visits, cardiovascular problems, seizures, childhood obesity, and assess the risks of combining energy drinks with alcohol, as well as other health issues.
Thus, they claim 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 intended use, as required by the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) standards for food additives”.
The scientists cite 2012 FDA data to claim that, in general, caffeine concentrations in energy drinks are much higher than that of sodas (GRAS limit 71mg/12oz serving) compared with 160-240mg of caffeine per can for “most popular energy drinks like Monster Energy”.
“Although some brands of coffee contain amounts of caffeine that exceed the FDA’s established GRAS levels for soda, energy drinks differ from coffee in three important ways,” they write.
Marketed to 'pound down': Letter
Firstly, the caffeine in coffee occurred naturally, they wrote, while caffeine in energy drinks was added by manufacturers and was thus subject to regulation by the FDA as a food additive.
Second, many energy drinks and related products contained added caffeine that exceeded the caffeine concentration of even the most caffeinated coffee, the doctors added.
“Thirdly, coffee is typically served hot, tastes bitter, and is consumed slowly by sipping. By contrast, energy drinks are typically carbonated, sweetened drinks that are served cold and consumed more rapidly,” they wrote.
“Indeed, energy drinks are often marketed in a manner that encourages consumers to ingest large quantities quickly (e.g. ‘pound down’, ‘chug it down’).
Unlike coffee, energy drinks were marketed to appeal to youth, the scientists added, citing a National Institute of Health-funded scientific review that concluded that this factor increased the risk of a drink overdose for this group, especially given the “risk-taking tendencies of adolescents”.