What's New -- CSPI Press Releases

For Release July 31, 1997

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Label Caffeine Content of Foods, Scientists Tell FDA

Health Activists Say Caffeine Causes More Than a 'Buzz': Miscarriages, Withdrawal Symptoms, Poor Nutrition

Caffeine may cause miscarriages, insomnia, and other problems, according to more than 40 scientific studies outlined in a 70-page petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI and dozens of health advocates are urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require the caffeine content of foods to be declared on labels.

"Caffeine is the only drug that is widely added to the food supply," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, at a press conference in Washington, D.C., "and consumers have a right to know how much caffeine various foods contain. Knowing the caffeine content is important to many people -- especially women who are or might become pregnant -- who might want to limit or avoid caffeine."

The amount of caffeine varies widely among brands. For instance, a cup of Dannon Coffee Yogurt has as much caffeine as a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, while a Dannon Light Cappuccino Yogurt has no caffeine. Sunkist Orange Soda has more caffeine than a Pepsi, while Minute Maid Orange Soda has none. A cup of Starbuck's Coffee Ice Cream has as much caffeine as half a cup of instant coffee, while some other brands are virtually caffeine free.

"Americans should be mindful about their caffeine consumption. Drinking the caffeine equivalent of several cups of coffee a day can lead to insomnia, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. Ceasing the consumption of caffeine often leads to withdrawal symptoms, such as headache and fatigue," said Roland Griffiths, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Caffeine is a mildly addictive drug, and parents might wish to limit their children's consumption of it."

Spurred by legal action by CSPI in the 1970s, the FDA issued an advisory in 1981 warning that "Pregnant women should avoid caffeine-containing foods and drugs, if possible, or consume them only sparingly." The FDA still maintains that advisory as its official policy.

"Unfortunately, food labels do not provide women with the information they need to put the FDA's advice into practice," said Patricia Lieberman, CSPI senior science policy fellow.

"Caffeine is present in an increasing variety of coffee and tea beverages, soft drinks, caffeinated waters, ice creams, and yogurts. It's usually impossible for consumers to estimate caffeine content based on a product's name or other label information."

Joining CSPI in support of the petition were 34 scientists and ten health and consumer groups. The supporters include prominent scientists from Johns Hopkins, Yale, Harvard, Duke, University of Michigan, University of California (Berkeley), and other universities, as well as the Association of State and Territorial Public Health Nutrition Directors, National Women's Health Network, Boston Women's Health Book Collective, and Society for Nutrition Education. John Hughes, of the University of Vermont's department of psychiatry, organized a coalition of scientists concerned about caffeine to ask the FDA to require caffeine labeling.

Separately, the American Medical Association recently called on the FDA to require caffeine-content labeling of foods that contain added caffeine.

"Consumers may not realize that some of their health problems could be due to caffeine," said Lieberman. "For instance, caffeine leads to increased risk of infertility, miscarriage, and impaired fetal growth. Caffeine also affects bone health, exacerbating the low calcium intake of women and teenagers and increasing the risk of osteoporosis."

Because caffeine is an added ingredient in soft drinks and caffeinated water, caffeine must be included in ingredient lists. But the labels do not have to disclose how much caffeine those foods contain. Neither the presence nor amount of caffeine is indicated on most labels of tea, coffee, and foods made with those beverages, such as ice cream and yogurt. Caffeine levels can vary widely:

  • Ben & Jerry's No Fat Coffee Fudge Frozen Yogurt has 85 mg of caffeine per cup -- the amount in five ounces of coffee -- while Healthy Choice's Cappuccino Mocha Fudge Low-Fat Ice Cream has only 8 mg per cup.
  • The caffeine content of 12-ounce soft drinks varies from Josta (58 mg), Mountain Dew (55 mg), Surge (51 mg), Coca-Cola (45 mg), Sunkist Orange Soda (40 mg), and Barqs Root Beer (23 mg), to none in Minute Maid Orange Soda or Mug Root Beer.
  • An 8 oz. cup of brewed coffee contains 135 mg of caffeine, while a cup of instant coffee contains 95 mg. General Foods International Coffees range from 26 to 102 mg per cup.

"Many children," Lieberman said, "consume large quantities of empty-calorie soft drinks and other caffeinated beverages in place of fruit juice, which may help reduce the risk of cancer, or 1% or skim milk, which may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. U.S. Department of Agriculture data show that teenage boys drink twice as much soda as milk. Teenage girls drink 50 percent more soda than milk."

"This all comes down to the consumer's right to know," said Lisa Cox, program and policies director at the National Women's Health Network. "When a food contains an ingredient linked to health problems, labels should disclose to shoppers the amount of that ingredient."

CSPI's petition also asks the FDA to study the effects of caffeine on human health to determine whether it should require warning labels or other measures to protect the public.

Caffeine Content of Foods and Drugs Chart

CSPI Petition to FDA (Acrobat)

CSPI, a nonprofit health-advocacy organization, was founded in 1971. CSPI is supported largely by the one million subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. The organization is well-known for obtaining nutrition labeling on all packaged foods and for its nutritional studies of restaurant foods.