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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. _ I have to admit up front that I'm a big fan of Consumer Reports, the magazine published by Consumers Union, the independent, nonprofit testing group.
It takes on issues that I often agree with, and its fierce independence gives it lots of credibility with me.
So, when I get a chance to participate in a telephonic press conference, I do. Last week, CR was promoting its July edition, which feature stories on the high caffeine content of some products that parents, particularly, might not be aware of.
Federal law requires labeling of products with caffeine when the caffeine is added, but it does not require the amount to be listed on the product label, or any warning to be listed of the caffeine content of products that contain it naturally, like coffee or chocolate.
CR would like to see the Food and Drug Administration require more explicit labeling. After all, they found a bottled water, Glaceau Vitaminwater Energy Tropical Citrus, that contains about twice as much caffeine as Nestea Iced Tea.
That can be arresting news. Other findings weren't as surprising to me. I already knew that Mountain Dew and Sunkist Orange contained caffeine, so when CR stated that Mountain Dew has more caffeine than Coke or Pepsi, and Sunkist Orange has nearly as much caffeine as the colas, I thought: instructive for some, but not overwhelming news.
In fact, the point of the magazine article is to raise concerns that children are consuming more caffeine through these "stealth" product contents than adults may know about.
And while there is mostly anecdotal evidence, and not nearly enough scientific research into the possible negative effects of caffeine on children, there is the possibility that too much caffeine _ and that amount varies with the height and weight of the child _ could cause jittery or anxious behavior and interfere with sleep.
The best evidence so far, according to CR's Dr. Marvin M. Lipman, its chief medical adviser, can be found in a study published in the January 2003 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Dr. Charles Pollak and colleagues at Ohio State University followed 191 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 for two weeks.
They recorded their sleep patterns and daily intake of caffeinated drinks and foods, and found that the average daily intake of caffeine was 63 mg _ the equivalent of half a cup of coffee. Those who drank larger amounts, the study showed, had sleeping problems and tended to be more tired during the day than their peers.
Canada, CR's staff noted, has suggested daily limits of 85 mg a day for children 10-12, and 45 mg a day for children 4-6. The United States has no such suggested limits.
However, the National Institute of Mental Health, CR's Lipman said, found in its studies that the health effects of caffeine on children were "modest," so this is still very much an open question.
To be on the safe side, then, CR is urging parents to read labels for caffeine content _ Minute Maid Orange Soda is caffeine-free, for example _ and to try to restrict their children's exposure to caffeine in their favorite drinks and candies.
That sounds reasonable.
Carolyn Susman writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cox News Service