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Dunkin’, Mickey D’s, or Starbucks? The Surprising Winner of the Coffee War

Coffee spilling
Gazimal—Getty Images

McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts' push into premium coffee was supposed to hurt Starbucks. Turns out, the two chains may be firing on one another, leaving Starbucks unscathed.

When Dunkin’ Donuts began selling lattés and other premium coffee drinks around a decade ago, it was viewed as a direct attack on StarbucksSTARBUCKS CORP. SBUX 0.3179% , the nation’s leading specialty coffee chain.

Then five years ago, another front broke out in the java wars when McDonald’s formally launched its McCafé line of premium coffee drinks. At the time, Mickey D’s entry into this brewing battle was called “a game changer” — and not in a good way for Starbucks.

The pincer moves were seen as a real threat to the Seattle-based java juggernaut, especially given the economics of the time. In 2009, the economy was still mired in a recession stemming from the global financial crisis. And with unemployment hovering near 10%, conventional wisdom said that cost-conscious consumers were likely to make a shift away from Starbuck’s pricey menu toward more cost-conscious offerings found at McDonalds or Dunkin’.

Research, in fact, showed that while coffee purchases were relatively recession proof — if you have to have your morning fix, you have to have your fix — the amount of money consumers were willing to spend per visit was likely to fall in economically troubled times. Hence, McDonald’s and Dunkin’, which both cater to working- and middle-class households, saw an opening.

Yet if the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that conventional wisdom was wrong.

As the chart below shows, over the past five years, Starbucks’ same-store sales — that is, revenues at locations that have been open for more than a year — accelerated and far outpaced those of Dunkin’ BrandsDUNKIN BRANDS GROUP DNKN -1.5017% , parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts.

Starbucks vs Dunkin

This point was reinforced when Starbucks announced its latest quarterly results on Thursday, which showed better-than-expected profits, and an 11% jump in overall revenues versus the same period last year.

What gives?

Well, class may indeed be playing a role in the coffee wars — but not in the way that you may have assumed. Earlier this year, Ted Cooper at The Motley Fool made an astute point:

McDonald’s may be able to sell coffee, but it will never come close to replicating Starbucks’ menu. McDonald’s best shot at becoming a coffee destination is to go after the price-conscious coffee crowd…

And who owns that crowd? Dunkin’ Donuts, of course, which despite its name generates nearly 60% of its revenues from coffee and beverage sales, not doughnuts.

The fact that Dunkin’s same-store sales growth pace has sunk precipitously ever since McCafés hit the market — even as the economy improved — is likely due to McDonald’s marketing push for bargain-seeking coffee drinkers. In many markets, in fact, McDonald’s is offering any size hot coffees for $1, which is more than half off what Dunkin’ charges for a hot regular cup of Joe.

Not surprisingly, investors have caught onto the fact that McDonald’s and Dunkin’ may be hurting one another — and not Starbucks — as evidenced by recent moves in Starbucks (SBUX), Dunkin’ (DNKN), and McDonald’s shares:

SBUX Chart

SBUX data by YCharts

The Economy Strikes Back

Meanwhile, the premium status that Starbucks maintains is likely to work to its advantage as the economy improves.

For instance, Dunkin’ Donuts recently announced that it will have to raise its prices slightly to address skyrocketing coffee bean prices in the commodity market. It remains to be seen how those price hikes will affect its consumer’s purchasing habits.

At Starbucks, it’s already known how consumers will react. When the company announced a price hike in 2013, comp-store sales remained strong as consumers cherished the brand enough to pay up, even in a so-so economy. The company announced another price hike in June, which is likely to add to overall revenues going forward.

The Empire Strikes Back

Ironically, the difficulties that McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts have run into in their attempts to strike at Starbucks has created an opening for Starbucks to attack those competitors where they live — in food sales.

Starbucks’ chief financial officer Troy Alstead noted that in the company’s recently ended quarter — when same store sales rose 6% globally and 7% in the U.S. — two percentage points of those comp sales growth was attributable to food sales.

Starbucks’ momentum in food has recently been driven by increased lunch offerings, but going forward, the full effects of the company’s 2012 purchase of La Boulange bakery should start showing their effects.

In a conference call with analysts Thursday, CEO Howard Schultz noted that La Boulange branded baked goods are now available in more than 1,000 Starbucks stores in California and the Pacific Northwest. By the end of this summer, that number should jump to more than 2,500 stores, he said, as La Boulange food items will be sold in stores in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston.

TIME Coffee

Starbucks Unveils First Location in Colombia

Inside A Starbucks Store And The "Returning Moms" Program Ahead Of International Women's Day
Bloomberg/Getty Images

And will open 50 more within the next 5 years

Starbucks is spreading its corporate empire to a country already known for the strength of its coffee.

After 43 years of roasting and selling Colombian coffee, Starbucks opened its first store in Bogota, fully aware that it will have to compete with a number of domestic chains in a country with one of the world’s most vibrant coffee cultures. The new coffeehouse is bigger and more fancy than your typical Starbucks—the three-floored café has comfortable armchairs and elaborate wall art. The new branch will be the first anywhere to sell exclusively locally-sourced Starbucks coffee, the company said in a statement.

Starbucks “is looking to achieve a leadership position in the [Colombian] market,” said a statement by Nutresa, one of the two Latin American companies Starbucks is partnering with in the new venture.

The U.S. company’s main competitor will be Juan Valdez, a multinational chain that also sells 100% Colombian coffee. Juan Valdez seems to welcome the competition, though; Alejadra Londono, head of international sales, told the New York Daily News that “there’s room in the market for us both.”

Yet with Starbucks planning to open 50 stores in the market within the next five years, it remains to be seen whether Londono’s assured words will stick.

TIME Breastfeeding Wars

What Starbucks Tells Employees About Breastfeeding Customers

PraxisPhotography—Getty Images/Flickr RF

A young male barista comes to the defense of a nursing mother winning accolades and some criticism as the story goes viral.

A Starbucks employee who defended a woman’s right to breastfeed in the coffee shop was not acting under instructions from head office, but on his own, according to the company.

In a sign of how supercharged the emotions have become about public nursing, a Canadian midwife’s tale of nursing her baby at a local Starbucks in Ottawa went a little viral in early July, getting picked up by news outlets around the globe. The story was, to many, a heartwarming one: after a woman complained to a young, male barista that another woman was breastfeeding without a modesty shield, the barista said he’d take care of it. However, instead of telling the nursing mom to cover up, he just brought her an extra coffee for having to deal with the unpleasantness.

This is not actually Starbucks’ official policy. In fact, Starbucks doesn’t have an official policy on breastfeeding, according to spokeswoman Laurel Harper. The cappu-chain does have an official policy about making customers feel welcome, Harper noted (several times). “We empower our local partners to reach a decision about how best to make a customer’s experience a positive one,” she says. (Starbucks calls its employees partners, because they all get stock in the company.) It was up to the employee to decide which customer in this case was going to have a less-positive experience.

The company also doesn’t have a policy on what to do if a customer comes and exposes different, less nourishing body parts, either, but does expect “partners” to be familiar with local law.

Not all of the reactions to the story, which was first picked up by woman behind the Canadian website PhD in Parenting, have been of the “Awww, good for him” type. For many people, public breastfeeding is akin to indecent exposure. They can’t understand why they have to be confronted by nudity. “I know it’s just life for the nursing mom, but seeing something partially exposed isn’t normal for everyone around them,” was one of the more moderate comments. “I’ve been in a few situations where I just happened to turn my head and my gaze caught sight of something I didn’t want (or mean) to see.” For others it’s an inoffensive as watching someone drink, say a Venti iced skinny hazelnut macchiato with an extra shot and no whip. It’s not their beverage of choice, but it’s not a big deal.

But perhaps because of the very primal urge mothers feel to feed their children, emotions run very high whenever the subject comes up and the right to breastfeed has become something of a cri de couer for mothers—and others—and Nurse-In protests are becoming more popular. One the most recent was at a Connecticut Friendly’s in June. If the actions of the young Starbucks “partner,”are any indication, the culture is tipping in the moms’ favor.

As for the 19-year-old barista in question, he hasn’t been named. Although you might be able to find him by looking for the mom in Ottawa with the biggest smile on her face and working back.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

A Chemical In Coffee, Fries, and Baby Food Linked to Cancer, Report Says

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Getty Images

The research isn’t conclusive. But lab evidence suggests a type of chemical found in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures—as well as coffee and some baby foods—could promote the growth of cancer cells

The crispy brown crust that forms on your french fries or toast? Those are hot spots for a chemical called acrylamide, which forms when the sugars and amino acids found naturally in foods like potatoes and cereal grains are cooked at temperatures above 150 degrees. It’s present in cookies, crackers, coffee and some baby food that contains processed bran. And according to a new report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), it’s a public health concern.

So should you worry?

Here’s what scientists know now: Lab studies involving animals have shown that diets loaded with acrylamide can cause DNA mutations that increase the risk of tumor growth and the spread of cancer cells. But studies involving people have produced “limited and inconsistent evidence” when it comes to the ties between acrylamide and cancer, the EFSA says.

While people exposed to the chemical in an industrial setting have suffered from nervous system issues like muscle weakness or limb numbness, that has little to do with your diet. “That was through inhalation and skin exposure to high levels of acrylamide at the work place, not food consumption,” stresses Marco Binaglia, a scientist who helped draft the EFSA report.

Binaglia says that, for now, it’s not possible for him or other health scientists to make diet recommendations. “We’ve identified a possible model of action that explains how acrylamide could damage DNA in a way that leads to cancer-producing cells.” But more study is needed to produce specific dietary guidelines, he adds.

For example, Binaglia says the EFSA’s coffee research only looks at acrylamide content, and does not take into account all the other possibly beneficial chemicals and compounds found in your morning joe, for instance. “A lot of questions cannot be answered right now,” Ramos adds. Similarly, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says that, based on available research, “It is not yet clear if acrylamide affects cancer risk in people.”

Despite all the unknowns, if you want to reduce your potential risk by cutting out the chemical from your diet, the ACS recommends boiling potatoes, which results in less acrylamide formation than roasting or frying. They also suggest lightly toasting your breads—no dark spots.

And as for acrylamide in coffee, says Luisa Ramos, another researcher who helped draft the report: “It’s usually found at higher levels in light roasts because it forms during the first minutes of roasting and then degrades as the roasting process continues.”

Ramos says choosing darker coffee roasts may lower your exposure. And, for concerned parents, baby foods that don’t contain processed cereal grains should have lower levels of the chemical.

TIME Food & Drink

These Are the Most Popular Starbucks Drinks Across the U.S.

Quartz

People in Portland really love eggnog lattes, apparently

The United States is a nation of enthusiastic coffee drinkers, and this map created by Quartz reveals what types of Starbucks coffee drinks are most popular throughout the country.

The map is based on data from hundreds of millions of Starbucks transactions across the U.S. Though the most popular beverages across the board were basic brewed coffee and lattes, certain cities showed an affinity for more specific, unique drinks. (We’re looking at you, Memphis and Portland.)

Quartz also noticed a sort of “cold-hot axis,” meaning that typically warm states like Florida, Texas, New Mexico and Hawaii order more iced coffee than hot coffee overall. Another divide that’s a bit harder to explain is dark vs. light. Cities like Chicago and Philadelphia opt for light roasts, whereas cities like Boston and Seattle go dark.

Other conclusions: people from southern California really love their Frappuccinos, and people from Seattle (Starbucks’ home city) are really into espresso.

TIME Exercise

5 Reasons to Drink Coffee Before Your Workout

Coffee cup and pot
Tammy Lee Bradley—Getty Images/Moment Open

Half of Americans start their day with coffee, and according to recent study, working out after downing a cup of java may offer a weight loss advantage. The Spanish study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, found that trained athletes who took in caffeine pre-exercise burned about 15% more calories for three hours post-exercise, compared to those who ingested a placebo. The dose that triggered the effect was 4.5 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. For 150-pound woman (68 kg), that’s roughly 300 mg of caffeine, the amount in about 12 ounces of brewed coffee, a quantity you may already be sipping each morning.

If you’ve always thought of coffee as a vice—one you’re simply not willing to give up—you’ll be happy to know that it’s actually a secret superfood. And if you exercise, caffeine can offer even more functional benefits for your workouts. Here are five more reasons to enjoy it as part of an active lifestyle, along with five “rules” for getting your fix healthfully.

Health.com: 12 Surprising Sources of Caffeine

Improved circulation

Recent Japanese research studied the effects of coffee on circulation in people who were not regular coffee drinkers. Each participant drank a 5-ounce cup of either regular or decaffeinated coffee. Afterward, scientists gauged finger blood flow, a measure of how well the body’s smaller blood vessels work. Those who downed “regular” (caffeinated) coffee experienced a 30% increase in blood flow over a 75-minute period, compared to those who drank the “unleaded” (decaf) version. Better circulation, better workout—your muscles need oxygen!

Less pain

Scientists at the University of Illinois found that consuming the caffeine equivalent of two to three cups of coffee one hour before a 30-minute bout of high-intensity exercise reduced perceived muscle pain. The conclusion: caffeine may help you push just a little bit harder during strength-training workouts, resulting in better improvements in muscle strength and/or endurance.

Health.com: 15 Natural Back Pain Remedies

Better memory

A study published this year from Johns Hopkins University found that caffeine enhances memory up to 24 hours after it’s consumed. Researchers gave people who did not regularly consume caffeine either a placebo, or 200 mg of caffeine five minutes after studying a series of images. The next day, both groups were asked to remember the images, and the caffeinated group scored significantly better. This brain boost may be a real boon during workouts, especially when they entail needing to recall specific exercises or routines.

Muscle preservation

In an animal study, sports scientists at Coventry University found that caffeine helped offset the loss of muscle strength that occurs with aging. The protective effects were seen in both the diaphragm, the primary muscle used for breathing, as well as skeletal muscle. The results indicate that in moderation, caffeine may help preserve overall fitness and reduce the risk of age-related injuries.

Health.com: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

More muscle fuel

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that a little caffeine post-exercise may also be beneficial, particularly for endurance athletes who perform day after day. The research found that compared to consuming carbohydrates alone, a caffeine/carb combo resulted in a 66% increase in muscle glycogen four hours after intense, glycogen-depleting exercise. Glycogen, the form of carbohydrate that gets stockpiled in muscle, serves as a vital energy “piggy bank” during exercise, to power strength moves, and fuel endurance. Packing a greater reserve means that the very next time you work out, you’ve upped your ability to exercise harder and/or longer.

But this news doesn’t mean you should down as much coffee as possible—your good intentions may backfire. In my work with athletes, I recommend five basic rules to best reap caffeine’s rewards:

  • Don’t overdo it. The maximum amount of caffeine recommended for enhancing performance with minimal side effects is up to 6 mg per kg body weight, which is about 400 mg per day (or about 16 ounces of coffee) for a 150-pound woman.
  • Incorporate it in healthy ways: doctor up coffee with almond milk and cinnamon instead of cream and sugar, or whip coffee or tea into a fruit smoothie, along with other nutrient-rich ingredients like almond butter and oats or quinoa.

Health.com: 11 Ways to Boost Your Energy With Food

  • Be consistent with your intake. Research shows that when your caffeine intake is steady, your body adjusts, which counters dehydration, even though caffeine is a natural diuretic. In other words, don’t reach for two cups one day and four the next.
  • Keep drinking good old H2O your main beverage of choice.
  • Nix caffeine at least six hours before bed to prevent sleep interference, and listen to your body. If you’re relying on caffeine as an energy booster because you’re tired, get to the root of what’s causing fatigue. Perhaps it’s too little sleep, overexercising, or an inadequate diet. If something’s off kilter, you won’t see progress, and you’ll likely get weaker rather than stronger. Striving for balance is always key!

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

MONEY Food & Drink

Your 4 Favorite Things to Eat & Drink Are Getting More Expensive

Stack of steaks
Karen To—Getty Images

It's as if the powers that be are conspiring against the Ron Swansons of the world: Prices for coffee, beef, bacon, and whiskey are all on the rise.

Man’s man Ron Swanson, the wonderfully mustachioed anti-government government worker on “Parks and Recreation,” played by Nick Offerman, is known for his love of meat, whiskey, and breakfast. The fictional Swanson—and anyone who can identify with the character’s taste—will certainly not love what’s happening to the prices of some of his beloved food and drinks.

Coffee
On Tuesday, Starbucks raised prices on some coffee drinks, and bags of Starbucks coffee sold in supermarkets will be more expensive soon too. Medium and large-size coffees saw prices hikes of 10¢ and 15¢, respectively, while a bag of Starbucks beans will be about $1 more in the near future.

Starbucks joins coffee giants such as J.M. Smuckers, maker of brands Folgers and Dunkin’ Donuts bagged coffee, and Kraft Food Groups (Maxwell House), as well as Dunkin’ Donuts stores themselves, which have all recently increased prices or announced plans to do so this summer. The price hikes are being blamed on a drought in Brazil that will reduce the global supply of coffee beans.

Bacon
In addition to coffee, the price of another staple on the American breakfast table is on the rise: beloved bacon. At the beginning of 2014, word started spreading of a pig virus that was decimating the pig population on North American farms—and that would likely cause a surge in bacon prices down the line.

As any bacon lover who pays close attention to supermarket prices can attest, the increase is now in full effect. Industry publication Burger Business noted that the average retail price for a pound of bacon at the supermarket reached $6.05 recently, an 18.8% rise compared with May 2013.

Beef
Beef prices have been on a tear for months, largely as a result of a long drought and soaring demand. Thanks to a shrinking supply of cattle, according to Bloomberg News, ground beef prices are at a record high, after rising 76% since 2009.

Prices for all cuts of steak have been soaring as well, which has translated not only to higher grocery bills for shoppers, but pricier menus at steakhouses and fast food establishments. Chipotle, McDonald’s, and In-N-Out Burger have all hiked menu prices recently as a response to broader trends in the cattle industry.

Whiskey
After the reality of all of those price hikes sets in, you’re going to need a drink. Appropriately, it too will cost more in the near future if your drink of choice is whiskey.

A bourbon shortage and the merger of two global giants in whiskey are among the reasons that prices of the popular spirit are expected to head skyward, and soon.

TIME Companies

Here’s What You Need to Know About the War on K-Cups

The War on K-Cups
A Keurig coffee brewer, part of the Grammy Gift Bag from the 48th Annual Grammy Awards. Vince Bucci—Getty Images

Is pod piracy illegal?

In 2013, nearly one-fifth of American households used K-Cups, Keurig Green Mountain’s single-serve coffee pods—the answer to long lines, tiring coffee runs and messy instant powder. But in the familiar buzz of a tiny K-cup being pumped, there lies a much larger issue.

Since Green Mountain’s patent for K-cups expired in September 2012, competitors have exploded onto the single-serve coffee market scene. For the first time since Keurig debuted the pods in 1990, other companies could stake their claims in a market share, but no longer, exclusively dominated by Keurig. Private-labels of coffee pods—known as “pirated” pods, though legal—began offering cheaper alternatives to K-Cups.

Since the expiration date, however, Keurig has made efforts to retain control of the coffee pod market. The company has partnered with retail giants, including Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, allowing them to make their own K-Cups. Keurig extended its brand; it didn’t relinquish it. And according to data from Rabobank and JM Smuckers on U.S. retail coffee sales, it was successful.

k-cup-market-share-graph
“In Pod We Trust,” National Automatic Merchandising Association

But as K-Cups continued to boom in popularity, so too did pirated pods. Unlicensed pods made up 14% of the U.S. market in the first quarter of 2014, up several percentage points from previous years, according to data from IRI, Rabobank and various industry reports.

Coffee Pod Market Share
“In Pod We Trust,” National Automatic Merchandising Association

As its K-Cup prices fell, Keurig took the battle into its own hands by unveiling the Keurig 2.0 machine, which will be released this fall. The new home brewer will use “proprietary interactive capabilities to identify the Keurig pack.” In other words, it will accept only licensed K-Cups.

In February, Treehouse Coffee Company—the largest manufacturer of private label pods—filed a lawsuit against Keurig, arguing that its new machine is anticompetitive, preserving and boosting its own sales while limiting those of others. Rogers Family Company has also filed a suit, in addition to 12 other class action suits filed by individuals and an insurance company.

Meanwhile, Treehouse CEO Sam Reed suggested that reverse engineered brewers would be a more immediate solution to the Keurig 2.0. During a Citi consumer conference in May, Reed said that “it will be a matter of months, not years, before we replicate the technology for the cups or the pods.”

Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, it’s clear that the rise in private label pods is far outpacing that of the original K-Cups. In January 2014, IRI estimated the year-on-year growth of the top five coffee pod brands: the private-label pods posted an enormous 471%, and Green Mountain was merely 29%.

K Cup Year over Year Growth
IRI

Keurig was founded by two college roommates in 1990, and was acquired by Green Mountain Coffee Company in 2006 for $160 million.

 

TIME Food & Drink

Your Caffeine Fix at Starbucks Is About to Get Pricier

Customers will be paying more for their coffee starting this week

+ READ ARTICLE

Starbucks coffee customers might have a hard time looking at the cup as half full after the company announced price hikes starting Tuesday.

The coffee giant said customers can expect to pay 5 to 20 cents more on some—but not all—drinks, and that the price of packaged coffee sold in grocery stores will increase by $1, from $8.99 to $9.99 for a 12 ounce bag.

A drought during the rainy season in Brazil—the world’s largest coffee producer—meant that many coffee companies raised prices this year. But a Starbucks’ spokesperson told Fortune that coffee costs historically account for less than 10% of operating costs, so other factors, like fuel, energy and labor costs, were considered in the price hike.

For caffeine lovers who just can’t stop grumbling about the onerous price of coffee, here’s another fresh brewed reason for you to complain.

 

TIME

Boys and Girls Are Impacted By Caffeine Differently

New research shows even low doses of caffeine impact kids, and bodies of boys and girls react differently

Boys and girls’ bodies react differently to caffeine after they hit puberty, new research shows.

It’s established that caffeine consumption can increase blood pressure and lower heart rate in adults, and researchers from University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, have shown in the past that the same side effects happen in kids. This new research, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that the different ways caffeine affects males and females starts at puberty, with boys’ hearts more affected than girls’.

The researchers are unsure why exactly there are reaction differences—it could be due to hormones or other physiological factors—but it’s concerning since doses were low, at 1 and 2 mg/kg, and since caffeinated energy drinks are popular among kids and teens.

Last year, the FDA announced it was starting to look into the safety of added caffeine in products for youth and adolescents. The announcement was made just as gum-maker Wrigley had introduced its newest product, Alert Energy Gum, which it then pulled from market. When it comes to products like 5-hour Energy and Monster energy drinks, the FDA has reported hospitalizations from the products and reported that energy drinks were cited in at least 13 teen deaths. Reports do not necessarily mean energy beverages caused illness or death, but the correlation was worrying.

Currently, the FDA does not require the amount of caffeine in a product to be included on food labels. Since the FDA says caffeine is a natural chemical found in items like tea leaves and coffee beans, it’s regulated as an ingredient not a drug. Energy drinks are not regulated because they are sold as dietary supplements. A 2012 Consumer Reports review of 27 best-selling energy drinks found that 11 do not list caffeine content. Among those that do, the tested amount was on average 20% higher than what was on the label.

The FDA says 400 milligrams a day, about four or five cups of coffee, is generally not considered dangerous for adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine consumption among young kids and adolescents.

The latest study did have weaknesses, since its study group was primarily among white, middle class, and well educated, and they could not completely confirm that control groups were totally abstinent when it came to consuming caffeine. Still, the research is important as medical and governmental groups take a closer look at how the stimulant may be impacting children’s health.

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