Reassessing caffeine intake and consumption patterns

In an ever-changing market, maintaining a full understanding of Americans’ caffeine consumption can be difficult, particularly in sensitive populations such as children and adolescents and potential heavy users such as college-aged young adults. In the past few years alone, a number of new products have hit the shelves, including colas, energy drinks, sports drinks, ready-to-drink coffees and teas, specialty waters and powdered tea mixes. Do these new products displace other sources of caffeine in American’s diet, or are they additive? Are any subpopulations at risk of exceeding caffeine intake safety thresholds?

A rigorous systematic review of caffeine safety confirmed that healthy adults can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day in adults, the amount found in about 4 cups of brewed coffee. The safety threshold lowers to ≤300 mg/day for pregnant women and stands at ≤2.5 mg per kg body weight per day in children and adolescents. While previous estimates of caffeine consumption in the United States indicate approximately 90% of caffeine consumers drink less than 400 mg caffeine per day, it may be time to reassess.

In addition to a variety of new caffeinated beverages hitting the market, the US has seen shifts towards remote work and e-learning as well as broader use of online grocery shopping and food delivery apps — all of which bring potential changes in caffeine consumption patterns that need to be understood. How can we keep up? For the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS), actionable science is the answer.

To answer this question, we have launched an analysis of beverage caffeine intakes that will fold in new consumption pattern data for the US population. By combining brand-specific caffeine concentrations with detailed beverage consumption patterns obtained from consumer panels, this study will enable in-depth analyses of beverage caffeine intake in the US. A new-and-improved tool developed and utilised by a market research firm will allow for robust and representative sampling, bringing confidence to the data and resulting conclusions.

What sets this research effort apart from other assessments of caffeine intake such as those performed with National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data is the granularity of beverage data captured and used in the assessment. Rather than apply generic caffeine concentrations to types of beverages reported as consumed, this study will apply brand- and product-specific caffeine concentrations in calculations of caffeine intake.

This level of detail will assist all organisations in the food and beverage ecosystem and support public health. This research project will help industry make informed, independent decisions that positively impact their business. Government stakeholders will apply this research to make informed decisions related to public health — on individual products and broader marketplace activities. And our academic partners apply our findings to shape additional research to improve food and nutritional sciences.

Data collection has already begun and will continue through 2022. And this data will reflect the state of caffeine consumption – including tea and coffee preferences – in our current recovering, post-pandemic world where work from home continues and e-commerce grows. As part of being good stewards, we plan to publish the results of the study in a peer-reviewed journal to share with the professional scientific community and the public. We strive for a thorough understanding of caffeine intake to enable confident decision-making across the university, industry and government sectors.

To learn more details about the IAFNS beverage caffeine intake study or to join in as a partner, visit our website or email [email protected].

  • Wendelyn Jones, PhD, is executive director of the Washington, DC-based Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS). Dr Jones has a strong background in the food, agriculture and chemical industries, with more than 20 years of global experience in industry and government. She applies her PhD in life sciences to extend IAFNS’ contribution to, and impact within, diverse scientific and health communities.

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