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Taking charge of the situation

Caffeine is back in the news—and not for the right reasons. A 16-year old high school student from South Carolina recently died from an accidental caffeine overdose, more accurately, a caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia, according to the medical examiner.

The teen consumed three caffeine-laced drinks–a large Diet Mountain Dew, an energy drink and a café latte–in a two-hour period before collapsing. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that adolescents, age 12 to 18, should not consume more than 100 milligrams of caffeine per day. This is the around the average amount of caffeine in an 8-oz cup of coffee.

Per the 2014 study, Trends in Caffeine Intake Among US Children and Adolescents, an estimated 73% of children consume some kind of caffeine each day. While there is no designated standard for children, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, adults can consume 400 milligrams of caffeine per day–equivalent to four or five cups of coffee–without experiencing side effects.

Since the student’s death, the focus has been on energy drinks and the dangers they pose for children (the AAP recommends that adolescents do not consume energy drinks, yet between 30–50% reported consuming them). However, when the word “caffeine” is bandied about, inevitably, “coffee” seems to be linked to it. It’s unfortunate that too many people hear a sound bite, see a tweet or catch a snippet of a news crawl on their TV, but do not investigate the full story so incorrect stories often run rampant in social media. So, while the negative press is surrounding the caffeine in energy drinks specifically, coffee marketers should not feel completely relieved. Rather, they should take charge of the situation by assuring consumers that coffee is “not bad for them.”

As noted by the National Coffee Association, coffee has a naturally complex botanical profile, with at least 1,000 natural compounds in the bean (including caffeine) and another 300 created in the roasting process. Scientists have linked several of them, including antioxidants, with a host of physiological benefits. Research has shown that moderate coffee consumption (or 3-5 cups daily) may be associated with many positive effects, including:

  • Liver disease prevention
  • Improved cognitive function in older adults
  • Sharper memory
  • Increased athletic endurance
  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Longevity

Due to the increasing scientific evidence, coffee has earned a new – and improved – reputation. The latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines recently made an unprecedented recommendation for coffee as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Furthermore, in 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an official body of both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations positively reclassified coffee. The experts concluded coffee could no longer be classified as a possible carcinogen and the WHO body said there is evidence that coffee drinking actually lowers the risk of developing specific cancers. The finding is the first time a food or beverage item has ever been positively reclassified by top scientists from all over the world.

So, although coffee has not received the bad publicity energy drinks have from this tragedy, the industry should not be reactive. Coffee marketers should try to prevent any potential negative press by heavily touting coffee’s healthy attributes—now.

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