Should the government regulate caffeine in energy drinks?
Critics say the drinks are a health risk, particularly for children
The government may soon harsh your energy drink buzz.
A group of doctors and public health experts on Tuesday asked the Food and Drug Administration to set limits on the amount of caffeine energy drinks can contain. The popular, sugary beverages have been under increasing fire over the past year from lawmakers and researchers, due to reports — including those from the FDA itself — that have linked the beverages to several deaths and thousands of hospitalizations.
In a report submitted to the FDA, the group warned that consumption of hyper-caffeinated beverages could result in serious health complications, especially in children.
"[T]here 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," the group wrote. "To the contrary, the best available scientific evidence demonstrates a robust correlation between the caffeine levels in energy drinks and adverse health and safety consequences, particularly among children, adolescents, and young adults."
The FDA already limits caffeine content in soft drinks, but energy drinks are typically classified as dietary supplements, exempting them from those regulations. Sodas are prohibited from containing more than 72 milligrams of caffeine per serving. Energy drinks, by contrast, usually have 160 to 500 milligrams of caffeine in a single serving, according to the FDA.
In October, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Monster Energy drink had been cited as a possible factor in the deaths of five people, according to FDA incident reports. The following month, the agency announced that it was also investigating claims that more than a dozen people had died over a four-year period from consuming 5-hour Energy shots.
A wrongful death lawsuit based on those FDA reports has dogged Monster since the fall, sending its share price tumbling, and casting a negative light on energy drinks as a whole. Last month, Monster announced that it would begin listing caffeine content on its drinks, though the company denied the move stemmed from its legal woes.
Tuesday's report adds to a growing chorus of calls for new limits on energy drinks. Last year, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked the FDA to impose caffeine limits to combat the "very urgent and dangerous threat" the drinks posed to consumers. As Connecticut's attorney general, Blumenthal spearheaded a successful effort to ban caffeinated alcoholic beverages like Four Loko in 2010.
Much like the backlash against caffeinated alcoholic beverages, the growing controversy over energy drinks has prompted state and local governments to take action of their own. Voters in New York's Suffolk County will decide this week whether to ban the sale of such drinks to minors in certain places.
And Canada already introduced caffeine caps on energy drinks this year, at 180 milligrams per serving.