Caffeine Is Added To
Soft Drinks To Addict
The Consumer - New Study
MSNBC Staff And Wire Reports
In 1998, Americans guzzled 15 billion gallons of soda, an average of about 585 cans per person.
Caffeine in sodas aims to addict, according to a new study. Researchers are now drawing a comparison to nicotine's use in cigarettes.
Caffeine in soft drinks - which Americans drink more of than water - is added to addict consumers, not to enhance flavor as soft drink manufacturers claim, said researchers who compared caffeine's use in sodas to nicotine in cigarettes.
"The marketing parallels between nicotine and caffeine are pretty stunning," said psychopharmacologist Roland Griffiths, who directed the research. "Both are psychoactive drugs. Until recently, cigarette companies denied that nicotine is addicting and said it was added merely as a flavor enhancer for cigarettes. The same is being said for caffeine."
Griffiths and other scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said most soda drinkers cannot taste the difference between caffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks.
The study appeared in Archives of Family Medicine, which is published by the American Medical Association, and concluded that caffeine was instead added to soft drinks for its addictive nature to boost consumption.
The Johns Hopkins study found that only 8 percent of a group of 25 adult consumers were able to detect the caffeine in sodas. The rest could not tell the difference between caffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks until caffeine levels were raised to levels beyond those approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
"This stands in sharp contrast to the claim some soft drink manufacturers make that they add caffeine purely for taste," Griffiths said.
Soda makers responded to a 1981 FDA proposal that caffeine be eliminated from cola drinks by saying it enhanced flavor.
Roughly 70 percent of soft drinks consumed in the United States contain caffeine, the study said.
"I'd like to see the soft drink industry come out of denial about the role of caffeine in their products," Griffiths said. "They're adding a mildly addicting, mood-altering drug, one which surely accounts for the fact that people drink far more sodas with caffeine than without."
A trade group representing the soft drink industry called the study's conclusions irresponsible and contended caffeine added to the beverages does enhance flavor.
"It was a very poorly conducted and designed study. The conclusions are irresponsible and they were not based on the science," said spokesman Jeff Nedelman of the National Soft Drink Association.
He said several of the taste testers in the study were smokers, with depressed senses of taste, and that they sampled many warm sodas over a brief period.
Soft drinks contain only a fraction of the caffeine present in coffee, Nedelman added.
Griffiths noted that caffeine-free versions of Coca-Cola Classic and Pepsi, the two most popular soft drinks, made up only 5 percent of sales.
Soft drinks represent the single largest source of added sugar in the U.S. diet, according to sources cited in the study. Soda drinking displaced consumption of more nutritional foods and could lead to more tooth decay, obesity and bone fractures, the report said.
In 1998, Americans guzzled 15 billion gallons of soda, an average of about 585 cans per person. Consumption of soft drinks has more than doubled since 1975, and more soda is consumed than water.
"We know adults and children can become physiologically and psychologically dependent on caffeinated soft drinks, experiencing a withdrawal syndrome if they stop," Griffiths said in the study.
"Most adults can become informed about, and cope with, withdrawal. ... But it is more problematic in children who are less well-informed and whose soft drink consumption may be sporadic," he said.
Griffiths said manufacturers should explain their reasons for adding caffeine to drinks and spell out the amount of the additive used.
Reuters contributed to this story.

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