Caffeine Fiend

A recent CBS story about “caffeine intoxication” was a classic piece of scare journalism. It referenced a report from the University of Massachusetts Medical School that stated there had been 4,600 caffeine-related calls to the American Association of Poison Control Centers in 2005, more than half of them from people under 19. The report then uses this as a reason to warn about the increasing use of caffeinated beverages by young people—but no comparison numbers are given. How many caffeine-related calls by young people were there in 2004? 2003? Just how seriously should we worry about caffeine intoxication? What were the health outcomes of these calls?

One of the study’s authors, Dr. Richard Church, describes some common symptoms of caffeine intoxication to Early Show cohost Maggie Rodriguez: nausea, headache, mild heart palpitations, and insomnia. But wait! People predisposed to seizures could have seizures. And people predisposed to heart disorders could have heart disorders.

“Everyone’s going to be a little bit different,” says Church.

Rodriguez tries to prompt the doctor to go further, saying, “You called [the caffeine drinkers] users—it really can be like a drug,” but he doesn’t take the bait, replying, “Well, ingesters, I suppose.”

Hint to healthcare experts: If you want to keep the kids off the caffeine, don’t concoct ridiculous scare stories—give us some real numbers. Don’t compare caffeine to a drug. And maybe don’t use the word intoxication. Just sayin’.

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