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Oregon Family Magazine

Kids and Caffeine

12/01/2009 15:25 ● By Anonymous
Should children consume caffeine?  Do you know what products contain caffeine?  How much, if any, is an acceptable amount of caffeine for children to ingest?  Do you know the answers?

Caffeine is both a naturally occurring and artificially made drug.  Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system which results in feelings of alertness and energy boosts.  A generation ago caffeine used to be more common place in drinks and treats reserved for adults, except for soft-drinks for teenagers, and the occasional chocolate milk and hot cocoa for children.  However, caffeine is becoming even more mainstream these days - 44 oz. soft drinks, iced tea, cappuccinos, frappachinos, candy, sweets, yogurts, ice cream, energy drinks/shots, pain relievers and good ol’ fashioned coffee.

Recent concerns regarding the obesity trend has had U.S. health professionals examining the dietary intake of children and teens.  Their findings have raised eyebrows and have them considering implementing guidelines regarding the amount of sugary drinks and caffeine children should ingest.  In Canada it is recommended that preschool children ingest no more than 45 milligrams, and older children no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine per day.  45 milligrams is the equivalent of one 12 oz. can of soda (though we typically buy them in 20 oz. or 24 oz. bottles), or four 1.5 oz. candy bars.  How much caffeine is in a large latte, a liter bottle of caffeinated soda, or a king size candy bar?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Soft Drink Association the following list provides a useful guide for the caffeine content in some common products:

Caffeine Content in Popular Foods & Drinks
Coca-Cola (12 ounces) 34 mg (milligrams)
Pepsi (12 ounces) 38 mg
Jolt soft drink (12 ounces) 71 mg
Red Bull (12 ounces) 80 mg
Mountain Dew (12 ounces) 55 mg
Iced tea (12 ounces) 70 mg
Black tea (6 ounces) 70 mg
Green tea (6 ounces) 35 mg
Brewed coffee (5 ounces) 115 mg
Instant coffee (7 ounces) 85 mg
Espresso coffee (2 ounces) 100 mg
Dark chocolate (1 ounce) 20 mg
Milk Chocolate (1 ounce) 10 mg
Cold medication (1 tablet) 30 mg

While the affects of caffeine seem almost instantaneous, it takes approximately six hours for the caffeine to work its way through the system.  In 2008 the University of Massachusetts Medical School released a report of 4,600 caffeine related poison control calls taking place in 2005, with children under the age of 19 being involved in half of them.

  • Caffeine use can cause heart and nervous problems to be aggravated.  In children, this is especially dangerous as parents may not even be aware children have existing conditions in the first place.
  • Caffeine from sugary soft drinks could result in cavities and the complete breakdown of tooth enamel from the ascorbic acid.
  • If soft drinks are consumed to the exclusion of healthy drinks, vitamin deficiency could result.
  • Children who consume 12 oz. soft drinks each day are setting themselves up for potential obesity at a rate of approximately 60%.
  • Caffeine is an appetite suppressant.  Children may not be eating enough healthy food due to caffeine consumption.
  • The rise in child related caffeine consumption could be related to the increased number of children being treated for concentration difficulties in educational settings.
Signs of Possible Caffeine Addiction

Parents should be on the lookout for the following symptoms in their children:

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nervous Stomach
  • Lack of Concentration
  • Jitteriness
  • Rapid Pulse
  • Elevated Blood Pressure

Most parents are not with school-aged children every moment of every day, so it becomes more difficult to monitor them.  However, if you’ve noticed some of the signs of caffeine addiction in your child, first ask him/her about it to open the lines of communication.  Determine if there is an underlying cause for the caffeine use, or if your child knows about the consequences of ingesting too much caffeine.  Chances are the discussion will result in a few eye-openers for each participant.  Next, determine what kind and how much caffeine is being ingested each day, to determine the most effective way to scale things back.

Withdrawal from caffeine in children is no different than adult withdrawals symptoms.  Children can experience headaches, body aches, moodiness, fatigue, and possible depression.  Despite the possibility of symptoms, parents should not be scared-off from the ultimate goal of decreasing and/or eliminating caffeine.

Some Tips:

  • Use the Canadian recommendation as a guide and limit caffeine intake to no more than one 12 oz. can of soda each day.
  • Discourage caffeine use at home.  Substitute water, milk, juice, or something decaffeinated (which is not caffeine-free, but contains less caffeine.)
  • If children are not consuming caffeine, try not to introduce it at all, or keep it to a minimum.
  • Have children drink plenty of water to flush the toxins from their systems.
  • Have children get plenty of rest.  Fatigue is a natural result of caffeine elimination.
  • Treats like chocolate, coffee ice cream, and hot chocolate are fine in moderation, as they contain less than 20 milligrams of caffeine.  Just don’t eat them all at the same time.
  • Do not withhold all caffeine from heavy caffeine users.  Serious withdrawal and symptoms will result.  Instead start monitoring daily consumption and decrease caffeine bit by bit to work towards complete elimination.
  • Most importantly, have patience.  Expect some symptoms to occur, but keep communicating to stay the course.
Despite the overwhelming popularity of caffeine, there are ways to limit the introduction of caffeine products to children.  Avoid chocolate products, iced tea, hot tea, coffee and soft drinks containing caffeine.  If avoidance is not an option, limit the amount of products children consume.  Caffeine is addictive, unnecessary and can be very harmful, especially in children.  Limit the amount of caffeine children ingest until they are old enough to make the decision for themselves.  It’s possible they will never turn to caffeine, even as adults, because they would not have developed a “taste” for it during childhood.  Imagine the impact cutting back will have on the emotional and physical health of children, who knows, it may even carry over to the adults in their lives as well.