Despite struggles, the U.S. economy demonstrated last month why it it’s the envy of every other nation on the planet:
In the face of tax increases and federal spending cuts, U.S. employers added a solid 165,000 jobs in April, and the brisk hiring pace pushed the U.S. unemployment rate down to a four-year low of 7.5 percent.
Other developments this week also pointed to a stronger economic outlook. The Consumer Confidence Index rose more than 10 percent in April to a five-year high of 68.1.
Meanwhile, Ford, GM, Chrysler and Nissan all reported double-digit U.S. sales increases last month, as strong demand for pickup trucks drove the best April for car and truck sales in six years.
And the American Automobile Association reports the national average gasoline price of $3.55 per gallon last month reflected the cheapest gas in April since 2010.
But even as concerns ease over prices at the pump, there is growing angst concerning the fuel consumers pump into their bodies. And this week the Food and Drug Administration sounded the alarm over increasing amounts of caffeine being added to some unlikely foods.
There is no shortage of products available for caffeine-craving consumers nowadays. But the introduction of caffeinated chewing gum has spurred concerns by the federal government about the well-being of children in relation to such stimulant-infused offerings.
The safety of energy drinks and energy shots are already under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration, prompted by over 90 consumer reports of illness and death related to alleged misuse of energy products in recent years.
The Chicago-based William Wrigley Junior Corporation unveiled Alert Energy Gum this week, promising “the right energy, right now.” Each piece packs 40 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to half a cup of coffee.
FDA Deputy Commissioner of Foods Michael Taylor said that the only time the agency explicitly approved the practice of adding caffeine to foods or drinks involved colas in the 1950s.
In a statement this week on FDA’s website Taylor added: “Today, the environment has changed. Children and adolescents may be exposed to caffeine beyond those foods in which caffeine is naturally found and beyond anything FDA envisioned…For that reason, FDA is taking a fresh look at the potential impact that the totality of new and easy sources of caffeine may have on health, particularly vulnerable populations such as children and youth, and if necessary, will take appropriate action."
In 2010, FDA forced the makers of alcoholic caffeinated beverages to cease production. The agency said the combination of caffeine and alcohol could lead to a "wide-awake drunk" and has led to alcohol poisoning, car accidents and assaults.
In nature, caffeine can act as a natural pesticide, where it is found in the fruit, leaves and seeds of some plants. When consumed by people, caffeine rouses the central nervous system, which temporarily relieves drowsiness and increases alertness. The stimulant is a native compound within coffee, the second most heavily traded commodity in the world behind crude oil.
The U.S. imports over $4 billion worth of coffee every year. According to a Zagat Survey, the average age U.S. coffee drinkers begin consumption is 18.8 years. Manufacturers of caffeinated foods and drinks appear to capitalize on that trend, claiming their products are intended for responsible adults. Warning labels are found on many of these goods, which advise against use by children, teenagers, and women who are pregnant or nursing.
Despite labels, critics argue it's not enough for companies to say they are marketing to adults when caffeine is added to items like candy, which are attractive to children.
Major medical associations have warned that too much caffeine can be dangerous for kids, who have less ability to process the stimulant than adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics says caffeine has been linked to harmful effects on young people's developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.