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What's the Buzz on Caffeine and Kids?
Written by July 30, 2010

Rachel Huber, MPH, RD

Associate Director of Education
The Cooper Institute

What’s the buzz on caffeine and kids?

 

Enter a coffee shop and you’ll see a group of teens sipping latt├ęs. Drive by a high school sporting event and you’ll see kids slamming energy drinks. Or cross through a park and you’ll see a few children drinking soda pops. Kids and caffeinated beverages have become the norm. But is it okay?

According to a recent editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the answer is no. Excessive caffeine in kids can cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and occasionally rapid heart rate. And way too many caffeine-laden products are marketed to children through advertising and sponsorship of events like snowboarding and skateboarding competitions. Thus, the authors of the editorial urge their government officials to step in and mandate labeling, marketing, and even sales of all products with caffeine levels exceeding 100 mg. Furthermore, they urge Health Canada (similar to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) to provide the public with more information on the health consequences of caffeine in children.

Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Well, the research behind the ill effects of caffeine in children is not so clear. Several other groups (and not just the beverage industry!) say that while caffeine may not benefit children, it probably won’t hurt them either. The International Food Information Council (IFIC) reminds consumers that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as well as the American Medical Association and American Cancer Society state that moderate caffeine consumption produces no increased risk to health. And in reference to children, IFIC says research has found no evidence to suggest the use of caffeine at the levels in foods and beverages is harmful; that caffeine-containing foods and beverages do not cause children to become hyperactive; and that while someone may exhibit short-term symptoms if they stop consuming caffeine suddenly, it isn’t addictive.

So what is “moderate consumption”? For adults, moderate consumption has been defined as 200-300 mg caffeine per day. The U.S. doesn’t provide specific guidelines for children, but Health Canada recommends:
-no more than 45 mg/day for children ages 4-6
-no more than 62.5 mg/day for children ages 7-9
-no more than 85 mg/day for children ages 10-12
-no more than 2.5 mg per kilogram body weight per day for kids 13 and older

Can kids easily exceed these recommendations? I’d say so! One 8-oz cup of drip-brewed coffee has 65-120 mg caffeine; one 8-oz energy drink has 50-200 mg caffeine; and one 12-oz soft drink has 30-60 mg caffeine. A 2007 study of U.S. adolescents aged 12-18 found that 73% consumed 100 mg or more of caffeine per day, with most consumption in the evening, the time of the day most likely to negatively effect sleep.

What do you think? Should parents watch or restrict their children’s caffeine intake? Might caffeinated beverages be replacing healthy beverages like milk and water in children’s diets? Or, is caffeine consumption in children (coffee and energy drinks) just another harmless fad that will pass with time?

MacDonald, N. (2010). Caffeinating children and youth. Canadian Medical Association Journal, Retrieved from http://www.cmaj.ca doi: 10.1503/cmaj.100953.

Fact sheet: caffeine and health. (2007, August 1). Retrieved from http://www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=Fact_Sheet_Caffeine_and_Health.

Malinauskas B.M. (2007). A survey of energy drink consumption patterns among college students. Nutr J;6:35.

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