Centre for Science in the Public Interest

For the Record

CSPI Centre for Science in the Public Interest
Centre pour la science dans l'intérêt public

February 19, 1998

The Honourable Allan Rock, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Health
Room 441-S, Centre Block House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario Canada K1A-0A6

Dear Minister Rock:

Health Canada provides guidelines that state that Canadians should consume no more than 400 to 450 mg of caffeine per day. Also, pregnant women are often advised by their physicians to limit or eliminate caffeine during their pregnancy because of a growing body of evidence that suggests that caffeine consumption by women who are pregnant or might become pregnant increases the risk of delayed conception, fetal growth retardation, and miscarriage.

In addition to the effects on reproduction, caffeine has been shown to affect calcium balance and may contribute to decreased bone density and osteoporosis. While the effect of caffeine on calcium balance may be modest, the impact on the public’s health could be significant in light of the fact that many women do not consume enough calcium.

Caffeine also can cause behavioural effects, including anxiety, sleeplessness, addiction, and withdrawal upon cessation of consumption. Those adverse effects have been reported in children as well as in adults.

In addition, many children consume large quantities of (and may be addicted to) soft drinks, which are often high in calories and devoid of nutrients, in place of more nutrient-dense beverages such as fruit juice and milk. According to 1996 consumption data, Canadians drink 25% more soft drinks than milk (110 litres of soft drinks, 88 litres of milk annually). Eighty percent of the soft drinks consumed were the heavily sweetened, non-diet variety. In another study, children who consumed one or more soft drinks a day consumed one-fifth less calcium than children who did not drink soft drinks.

To give consumers more information to make educated decisions about caffeine consumption, we urge that Health Canada implement the following measures.

I. Health Canada should require that caffeine content be disclosed on food labels.

Caffeine is present in a variety of foods and beverages. It is found not only in coffee, tea, and colas, but also in ice cream and yogurt. It is difficult for consumers to predict the caffeine content of many of those foods and beverages, since the levels of caffeine vary widely between brands. For example, Maxwell House percolator coffee has 173 mg of caffeine per 236 mL serving while Tasters’ Choice has less than half that amount.

Many Canadians are interested in information about the caffeine content of foods and beverages so that they can manage their intake. Drivers who wish to stay awake and students studying for exams may rely on caffeine to help them stay alert. The parents of young children might wish to limit their children’s consumption of foods containing this stimulant close to bedtime. Pregnant women may wish to choose products with less caffeine or entirely eliminate caffeine from their diet. Others might wish to limit their caffeine intake to help prevent such side effects as nervousness, irritability, or sleeplessness.

Thus, we urge Health Canada to require that foods that contain significant amounts of caffeine (either naturally or as a food additive) disclose on the product label the amount of caffeine (in milligrams) per serving.

II. Health Canada should conduct a study about the health effects of caffeine and determine what other actions should be taken to inform the public about side effects of caffeine.

Caffeine is the only drug that is widely added to the food supply. It is consumed by a large proportion of the population. Caffeine is an addictive stimulant. Scientific research has demonstrated that caffeine consumption affects reproduction, behaviour, and bone-mineral metabolism and has negative nutritional consequences for children.

Health Canada should conduct a thorough review of the effects of caffeine on health and behaviour to determine if further regulatory or educational actions should be taken to inform consumers about adverse effects associated with caffeine consumption.



John Brosnan, Ph.D.
Professor and Head
Department of Biochemistry
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Marvin Gans, M.D.
Associate Professor of Paediatrics
University of Toronto

Mary Goodwin, B.Sc., C.P.H.
Mabou, Nova Scotia

John Kennelly, Ph.D.
Agricultural, Food & Nutritional Science
University of Alberta

Louise Lambert-Lagace, B.Sc., R.D.
Consulting Dietitian and Author
La Clinique de Nutrition
Montreal, Quebec

Cathy Lockerbie-Forrester, B.Sc., R.D.
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Ryna Levy Milne, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
School of Family and Nutritional Sciences
University of British Columbia

Norman Temple, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Nutrition
Athabasca University

Hugette Turgeon-O’Brien, Ph.D.
Sciences des aliments et de nutrition
Université Laval

Lita Villalon, Ph.D.
Ecole de nutrition et d’études familiales
Université de Moncton

CSPI Canada