Children, tweens and teens are at a much greater risk for experiencing side effects from caffeinated foods and beverages because of their smaller size. The same amount of caffeine given to a child, or given to an adult will have a much greater effect on the smaller child.
This article looks at why caffeine is not a good drug for children, tweens or teens and some of the other reasons to limit kids' caffeine consumption that include the affect on behavior, obesity, nutritional deficiencies and the link with dental cavities.
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Caffeine is classified as a drug that stimulates the central nervous system. Caffeine is the only drug considered a safe and effective stimulant by the FDA and allowed to be included in OTC stimulant products for adults.
At lower levels, caffeine makes people feel more alert, better able to focus and more energetic, but at higher levels, people can experience different, often unpleasant, side effects that can have a significant impact on their health and well being.
Because of their smaller size, children are at an increased risk for side effects from caffeine sources. The same amount of caffeine affects a smaller child more than a larger adult.
An extensive list of Caffeine Content of Food and Drugs available on the Center for Science in the Public Interest's website at: http://www.cspinet.org/reports/caffeine.pdf. A shorter list for general guidelines can be found on the related Type-A Mom article on caffeine "Could Your Child, Tween or Teen be Getting Over Caffeinated?"
Main Reasons to Limit Caffeine in Children, Tweens and Teens
Several of the concerning effects of caffeine on children include:
1. Hyperactivity and Acting Out – A study reported at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in 2005 found that caffeinated cola drinks may cause children to be squirmy, sassy or hyperactive. According to the study results, as little as three quarters of a can of caffeinated soda (6 oz.) can make a child act out.
2. Caffeine Sensitivity - Some people are more sensitive to caffeine. On average, the smaller the person, the less caffeine is needed to produce side effects, as a result because of their smaller size children are more at risk for the side effects of too much caffeine.
3. Prolonged Effects – Caffeine moves through the body within a few hours after it has been consumed and is ultimately passed out of the body with the urine. A child may feel the effects of caffeine for up to 6 hours particularly if he or she is sensitive to it.
4. Diuretic - Caffeine works as a diuretic, which means it causes the body to eliminate water by urinating. Consuming caffeine contributes to dehydration making caffeinated beverages a poor choice during hot weather.
More Reasons to Limit Caffeine in Children, Tweens and Teens
Additional reasons for limiting caffeine use in children include:
1. Increased Risk of Obesity - One 12-ounce (355-milliliter) sweetened soft drink contains 150 calories and with 10 teaspoons of sugar. Consuming just one 12-ounce sweetened soft drink per day increases a child's risk of obesity by 60%.
2. Nutritional Deficiencies – Children, tweens and teens who fill up on caffeinated, sugar beverages do not get the vitamins and minerals they need from healthy sources, putting them at risk for developing nutritional deficiencies.
- In particular, children who drink a large amount of soda miss getting the calcium needed from milk to build strong bones and teeth.
3. Dental Cavities - Drinking too many sweetened caffeinated drinks can lead to dental cavities (or caries) from the high sugar content and the erosion of the enamel of the teeth from the acidity. My dentist has said that they are seeing a much higher rate of cavities in the teens who are routinely drinking sugary sodas.
- Remember that one 12-ounce (355-milliliter) regular, carbonated soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar (49 milliliters) and 150 calories.
4. Dehydration - Caffeine is a diuretic which means it causes the body to eliminate water (through urinating), which may lead to dehydration.
- Caffeine is an especially poor beverage choice in hot weather, when children need to replace water lost through sweat.
5. Caffeine Withdrawal - Suddenly stopping caffeine may cause withdrawal symptoms especially for those who are used to consuming a lot.
- Caffeine withdrawal symptoms include headaches, muscle aches, temporary depression, and irritability
6. Aggravate other Problems - Caffeine can aggravate heart problems, blood pressure and nervous disorders even in children.
Recommendations for Amount of Caffeine
Children & Tweens
The United States does not yet have established guidelines for caffeine intake by children. The Canadian government has some good recommendations for caffeine intake by age:
- 45 mg per day for 4- to 6-year-olds
- 62.5 mg per day for 7- to 9-year-olds
- 85 mg per day for 10-to 12-year-olds
Those recommended maximums are equivalent to about one to two 12-oz (355 ml) cans of cola a day. One 12 ounce soda is equal to 35 - 45 mg of caffeine; two cans 70 - 90 mg.
Nutrition experts suggest that the upper limits for teens be no more than 100 mg per day; this amount is little more than
- One can of Red Bull
- Two cans of Coke
- 10 ounces of a Monster Energy Drink
You may also want to take a look at the Type-A Mom related articles on caffeine "Could Your Child, Tween or Teen be Getting Over Caffeinated? " and the article on caffeine, vitamins and muscle enhancers found in gumball-like products on "There’s Caffeine hiding in Those Gumballs (Energy Balls)!"
There is even more information about these deceptive products the Squidoo lens on " Gumballs with Caffeine & Muscle Enhancers Marketed for Children & Teens."
Related Type-A Mom Articles on Caffeine
Other related articles on caffeine featured on the Type-A Mom site include Tips to Minimize Caffeine Use by Children & Minimizing Caffeine Withdrawal and Could Your Child, Tween or Teen be Getting Over Caffeinated?
Sources and For More Information
Center for Science in the Public Interest. May 2007. Caffeine Content of Food and Drugs.
Consumer Reports. 2006. Caffeinated kids. ConsumerReports?.org
Frary CD, Johnson RK. January 2005. Wang MQ. Food sources and intakes of caffeine in the diets of persons in the United States. Journal of the American
Dietetic Association. 105;1:110-113.
Health Canada. 2006. Caffeine. It’s Your Health.
Heller L. Feb. 2007. Pepsi to put caffeine content on labels. BeverageDaily?.com
Heller L. Feb. 2007. Coca-Cola joins industry move to label caffeine. BeverageDaily?.com
Jana LA, Shu J. 2007. Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor and a Bottle of Ketchup. American Academy of Pediatrics.
KidsHealth?.org. 2007. Is Caffeinated Soda OK for Kids? Nutrition and Fitness.
KidsHealth?.org. 2005. Caffeine and Your Child. Nutrition & Fitness.
Laino C. 2005. Caffeinated Cola May Make Kids Hyperactive. From Coverage of the American Psychiatric Association 2005 Annual Meeting.
Nieman P. 2006. Children and Caffeine. HealthyKids?.ca.
University of Utah Pharmacy Department. Caffeine. Common Medications.
Warner J. 2004. More Americans Getting a Caffeine Buzz: Soft Drinks Surpass Tea as Second Most Popular Caffeine Source. WebMD Medical News.
Photo Source: Martin Walls. Coffee Shop. Royalty Free Use.
About the Author
Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS, CWS is a respected physician, an expert in life challenges, loss, grief and bereavement, professional health educator, professor, lecturer, writer and author.
Dr. Dyer teaches College Students how to live healthier lives and become more savvy Internet consumers as part of her Nutrition & Wellness Course.