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Oregon Family Magazine

The Buzz in your Little Bee

04/27/2016 ● By Sandy Kauten
A 12-ounce soda can contain between 20 and 40 milligrams of caffeine, while those frothy drinks with a shot of espresso can easily contain twice that amount. As both the serving size and availability of these drinks continue to grow, we have to wonder if we are losing track of just how much caffeine our children are swallowing.

Caffeine is one of the most studied ingredients in the food supply. Researchers have examined caffeine’s affect on fertility, cancer, heart disease, headaches, osteoporosis and more. In 1958, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified caffeine as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). In 1987, the FDA reaffirmed its position that normal caffeine intake posed no increased health risk. As a result, both the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society have statements confirming the safety of moderate caffeine consumption.

Unfortunately, there have been relatively few studies looking specifically at caffeine and children. As a result, there are no clear guidelines for kids and teens. For adults, moderate caffeine consumption is estimated to be about 300 milligrams or less per day (the amount found in about two to three cups of brewed coffee). It stands to reason that little bodies should consume only a fraction of this amount. Most experts say that school-aged kids and teenagers shouldn’t have more than 100 milligrams of caffeine each day (less than three sodas). Younger children should have much less.

The majority of the research indicates that caffeine is not addictive, does not cause hyperactivity and does not pose an increased health risk to children. However, many sources note that too much caffeine can cause nervousness, irritability, anxiety and sleeplessness in many children because caffeine is considered a mild stimulant. Some children may have an increased sensitivity to caffeine – so parents need to assess how caffeine affects each individual child.

Although small amounts of caffeine may not affect most kids negatively, let’s not overlook the obvious: caffeine-containing beverages are “edging out” more nutritious beverages from their meal plan. Without milk and fruit juice, children are less likely to get recommended amounts of important nutrients such as calcium and vitamin C. Moreover, soda pop and coffee drinks clearly contribute only empty calories – an obvious factor in the alarming rate of overweight kids.

The bottom line is this: the prudent approach is to limit caffeine-containing beverages to an occasional treat. Current labeling laws require that added caffeine must be included in the ingredient list … although how much caffeine does not have to be specified (Note: The FDA limits the added caffeine in beverage products to six milligrams per ounce). Also take note that foods that contain caffeine naturally (like chocolate and coffee) won’t list caffeine in the ingredient list. Consequently, it can be hard to regulate your child’s caffeine intake. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help control the “buzz”:

• Limit soda consumption to parties or special occasions. If you keep soda in the house, put boundaries on the amount your kids can drink. Tell them they can have four soft drinks a week, for example, and then let them choose the “when.”

• Keep your refrigerator well-stocked with low-fat milk, water bottles and juice blends. If it is easy to grab, kids are more likely to reach for it.

• Encourage children to choose decaffeinated versions of soft drinks, coffees and teas.

• Down-size soft-drink, tea and coffee purchases (rather than super-size).

• Avoid caffeine-filled drinks within four hours of bedtime.

• Be a good role model by keeping your own caffeine consumption under control.