Jacobs Journal of Food and Nutrition

Caffeine use in the 21st Century: Considerations for Public Health

*Kay Rutherfurd Markwick
Department Of Clinical And Social Nutrition, Massey University Albany, New Zealand

*Corresponding Author:
Kay Rutherfurd Markwick
Department Of Clinical And Social Nutrition, Massey University Albany, New Zealand

Published on: 2018-02-28


Caffeine has been consumed for thousands of years, with the primary sources originally being tea leaves and coffee beans. However, over the past 120 years new caffeinated foods and beverages have been developed and marketed worldwide, which has led to an increase in caffeine consumption in both children and adults. Concomitant with the rise in caffeine consumption has been a rise in the number of caffeine-induced incidents leading to emergency room visits or calls to poison centres. The reasons for the increases in caffeine consumption and related health concerns are likely to be multi-factorial and include aspects such as the wide range of caffeine sources available, the variability in caffeine content between and within products, lack of knowledge by the consumer, compounded by the wide variety of reasons for its consumption. In addition, with the advent of caffeinated products such as energy drinks and ready-to-drink beverages which frequently contain high levels of sugar, alcohol or other stimulatory compounds, adjuvant effects are possible. Life in the 21st century is faster and more competitive than it has ever been, and lifestyles are constantly changing to reflect that. Although consumption of increasingly accessible caffeinated beverages may aid in achieving life’s goals, the question remains as to how this increased consumption may impact on health, particularly in the long term. The aim of this review is to explore the above issues in an effort to raise awareness and stimulate discussion as to future public health concerns.


Caffeine Consumption; Metabolism; Pharmacological Aid; Energy Drinks


Based on Chinese legend, historians believe that caffeine was first consumed in the form of tea as far back as 2737BC. Tea continued to be consumed primarily for medicinal purposes (not necessarily those deriving from caffeine) until the Tang dynasty (618-906AD), when its popularity as a beverage grew. Consumption of caffeine from coffee beans is thought to have originated in Ethiopia in the 9th century with the Galla tribe consuming balls comprised of animal fat and ground coffee cherries for energy during battles or long marches. A popular legend, also originating from Ethiopia around the same time, is that of a goat herder, who, after noting that his goats had more energy after eating wild coffee berries, tried the berries himself, and after experiencing the same effect passed the information on to the local monastery, from where word spread. Coffee as a beverage was not invented until around 1000AD, and the world’s first coffee shop was opened in 1475 in Constantinople. Coffee consumption slowly spread around the world over the next several hundred years and burgeoned to such an extent that worldwide coffee consumption is thought to be in the order of 500 billion cups per year.