The Food and Drug Administration is investigating the rise of caffeine-infused food with an eye toward the possible inclusion of warning labels on products like gum, potato chips, and waffles.

“The only time that FDA explicitly approved the added use of caffeine in a food was for cola and that was in the 1950s. Today, the environment has changed,” Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner of the FDA said in a statement. “Children and adolescents may be exposed to caffeine beyond those foods in which caffeine is naturally found and beyond anything the FDA envisioned when it made the determination regarding caffeine in cola. 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.”

The investigation was triggered by the release of a new product: Wrigley’s Alert Energy Caffeine gum, which contains 40 mg of caffeine in each stick, or the equivalent of about half a cup of coffee. Although the product is marketed to adults as an on-the-go energy solution, the FDA expressed concern about its use by children. Medical organizations have expressed concern about the side effects of caffeine for children – who process the stimulant less effectively than adults – warning that it can have a harmful impact on developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.

And while Wrigley’s gum was cited as the impetus for the agency’s interest in the topic of caffeinated food products, it is just one of many now on the market. They include Jelly Belly’s Extreme Sport Beans (50 mg of caffeine per pack) and two flavors of Frito Lay’s Cracker Jack’D Power Bites, cocoa java and vanilla mocha, which contain ground coffee and caffeine. The agency also noted that caffeine is added to foods like marshmallows, sunflower seeds, instant oatmeal, and waffles, as well as energy drinks.

“The proliferation of these products in the marketplace is very disturbing to us,” Taylor said.

The agency plans to assess the total cumulative impact on children who consume multiple sources of caffeine. Factors like consumption levels, rates, and patterns among specific populations will be considered, as well as other information like scientific data on toxicity, behavioral effects, and other health effects caused by foods with caffeine additives.

To read Commissioner Taylor’s statement, click here.

To read the agency’s investigation announcement, click here.

Why it matters: Commissioner Taylor warned that the agency will take “appropriate action” as necessary to address concerns about caffeinated foods, but the form of that action remains unknown. Although Taylor noted that age restrictions for such products “would be challenging” to enforce, other possibilities include a warning label on caffeine-infused food products, limitations on the marketing and sale of products with caffeine additives to adults only, or even a limit on the amount of caffeine in certain products. Taylor also suggested to The Wall Street Journal that the agency would like to see self-regulatory efforts by the food industry, as it could address the problem more quickly than government regulations.