Caffeine & Your Child

Most parents wouldn’t dream of giving their kids a mug of coffee, but might routinely serve soft drinks containing caffeine. Foods and drinks with caffeine are everywhere, it’s wise to keep caffeine consumption to a minimum, especially in younger kids.

The United States hasn’t developed guidelines for caffeine intake and kids, but Canadian guidelines recommend that preschoolers get no more than 45 milligrams of caffeine a day. That’s equivalent to the average amount of caffeine found in an average 12-ounce can of soda or four 1.5-ounce milk chocolate bars.

“The short and long-term effect of caffeine on kids’ health is something every parent should take note of,” explains Stanley Grogg, DO, an AOA board-certified pediatrician in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Most adults are aware of the fact that caffeine is a stimulus and tends to make children hyperactive, but they don’t recognize the other symptoms.”

How Caffeine Affects Kids

A stimulant that affects kids and adults similarly, caffeine is a drug that’s naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. Caffeine is also made artificially and added to certain foods. Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system. At lower levels, it can make people feel more alert and energetic.

In both kids and adults, too much caffeine can cause:

* jitteriness and nervousness

* irritability

* upset stomach

* headaches

* dehydration

* difficulty concentrating

* difficulty sleeping

* increased heart rate

* increased blood pressure

Especially in young kids, it doesn’t take a lot of caffeine to produce these effects.

Other reasons to limit kids’ caffeine consumption include:

* Consuming one 12-ounce (355-milliliter) sweetened soft drink per day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60%.

* Not only do caffeinated beverages contain empty calories (calories that don’t provide any nutrients), but kids who fill up on them don’t get the vitamins and minerals they need from healthy sources, putting them at risk for nutritional deficiencies. In particular, kids who drink too much soda (which usually starts between the third and eighth grades) may miss getting the calcium they need from milk to build strong bones and teeth.

* Drinking too many sweetened caffeinated drinks could lead to dental cavities (or caries) from the high sugar content and the erosion of tooth enamel from acidity. Not convinced that sodas can wreak that much havoc on kids’ teeth? Consider this: One 12-ounce (355-milliliter) nondiet, carbonated soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar (49 milliliters) and 150 calories.

* Caffeine can aggravate heart problems or nervous disorders, and some kids may not be aware that they’re at risk.

The best way to cut caffeine (and added sugar) is to eliminate or severly cut back soda. Offer water, milk, or sparkling water. Even 100% fruit juice in small amounts. When cutting back caffeine, cut back slowly, or one could get headaches, feel achy, depressed, or just plain awful. Moderation is the key.

One thing that caffeine does not do is stunt growth. Although scientists once worried that caffeine could hinder growth, this isn’t supported by research. But the symptoms and obvious results of caffeine consumption should be seriously considered.

Here are a few common beverages that include caffeine to be aware of, and their levels of caffeine:

Jolt Soda, 12oz, 71.2mg

Mountain Dew, 12oz, 55mg

Coca-Cola, 12oz, 34mg

Diet Coke, 12oz, 45mg

Pepsi, 12oz, 38mg

Brewed Coffee, 5oz, 115mg

Dark chocolate, 1oz, 20mg

Milk chocolate, 1oz, 6mg

Cocoa beverage, 5oz, 4mg

Chocolate milk, 8oz, 5mg

Cold relief medicine, 1 tab, 30mg

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