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Kids and Caffeine: Are They Getting Too Much?


It may surprise some parents to find out that caffeine is in many of the foods and beverages their kids consume!

Which Foods Contain Caffeine?

The obvious and most common source of caffeine is soft drinks. However, there may be caffeine other foods and drinks your child or teen enjoys. Other common sources include coffee, tea (including iced tea), energy drinks, over-the-counter headache medicines, and chocolate (including hot chocolate and other chocolate milk drinks). Also look out for caffeine in coffee-flavored candies, ice cream, and frozen yogurt.

How Much Is Too Much?

In moderate doses, caffeine increases alertness, but too much caffeine can lead to jitteriness, upset stomach, headaches, difficulty concentrating, problems sleeping, and increased heart rate, and blood pressure. For young children, it does not take much caffeine to produce these negative results. Caffeine may also cause problems for children with heart problems or nervous disorders, and some children may not even know they are at risk.

Caffeine moves through the body in a few hours and is expelled in the urine. The body does not store caffeine, but children and teens may feel its effects for up to six hours, depending on their sensitivity.

Unfortunately, there is no consensus in the medical community about upper limits of caffeine intake for kids and teens. The United States has not set guidelines for caffeine intake for kids, but Canadian guidelines recommend that preschool-age children should have less than 45 mg (milligrams) of caffeine per day, or about the amount found in one soda.

Caffeine and Health

Ellyn Satter, a dietitian and author of Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense, warns that caffeinated beverages not only work as unwanted stimulants, but they replace more healthful drinks, such as milk.

Many nutritionists echo Satter's concerns. And if kids are drinking high-caffeine, high-sugar drinks too often, they may not be hungry for more nutritious foods.

Other studies have looked at the effects of caffeine on school performance. Low doses of caffeine may have actually enhanced performance, attentiveness, and some motor tasks, although the children also reported increased anxiety. Other studies have linked caffeine consumption to getting less sleep, which has been linked to higher BMI (body mass index) scores in teenagers, especially older teenagers. Another study of young children (aged 9-12 years), found a link between those who consumed caffeine and those who suffered from symptoms of depression, but it did not establish a cause and effect relationship.

What Can Parents Do?

It can be hard for parents to know how much caffeine their kids are consuming. One tip is to purchase only those beverages labeled "caffeine-free." With food items other than beverages, the only accurate method of determining the caffeine content of foods and beverages is to contact the food manufacturer.

Parents can take the following steps to limit their children's caffeine intake:

  • Only purchase beverages labeled "caffeine-free."
  • Limit overall intake of soda.
  • Encourage children and teens to choose water over soda, energy drinks, or coffee drinks.
  • Be aware of over-the-counter medicines that contain caffeine (such as some appetite suppressants and headache remedies).

RESOURCES:

Center for Science in the Public Interest
http://www.cspinet.org/

International Food Information Council
http://www.ific.org/

References:

Benko CR, Farias AC, Farias LG, Pereira EF, Louzada FM, Cordeiro ML. Potential link between caffeine consumption and pediatric depression: a case-control study. BMC Pediatr. 2011;11:73.

The buzz over energy drinks. National Public Radio website. Available at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6720000. Created January 4, 2007. Accessed August 27, 2012.

Caffeine and your child. KidsHealth website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/feeding/child_caffeine.html#. Updated February 2012. Accessed September 4, 2012.

Drescher AA, Goodwin JL, Silva GE, Quan SF. Caffeine and screen time in adolescence: associations with short sleep and obesity. J Clin Sleep Med. 2011;7(4):337-342.

Hidden caffeine. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children.org website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/nutrition/Pages/Hidden-Caffeine.aspx. Updated April 3, 2012. Accessed September 4, 2012.

Kids should not consume energy drinks, and rarely need sports drinks, says AAP. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children.org website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Kids-Should-Not-Consume-Energy-Drinks-and-Rarely-Need-Sports-Drinks-Says-AAP.aspx. Updated May 30, 2012. Accessed September 4, 2012.

Malinauskas BM, Aeby VG, Overton RF, Carpenter-Aeby T, Barber-Heidal K. A survey of energy drink consumption patterns among college students. Nutr J. 2007;6:35.

Satter E. Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense. Boulder, CO: Bull Publishing; 2000.



Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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