Are kids hooked on caffeine?

I will be honest with you. I’m not a really productive member of society until I’ve had 16 ounces of coffee. As adults, some of us have a caffeine fix the morning. But should we be concerned that kids are trending towards a serious caffeine addiction with a Starbucks on every corner and a convenience store full of energy drinks?

A new study from Pediatrics released online today evaluated the trends on caffeine intake in American children and adolescents.  Surprisingly, the average caffeine intake hasn’t increased in the last decade. The study found that 63 percent of toddlers and preschool children, and almost 75 percent of older children consumed caffeine daily.  While the overall amount of caffeine intake didn’t change significantly, the sources of caffeine did.  The study reported that the intake of caffeine in children’s diets has decreased from soda, but increased through energy drinks and coffee drinks.  Intake from tea remains the second highest source of caffeine. 

So the big question…is caffeine safe for kids?  Caffeine is a drug found naturally in some plants (think coffee beans and tea leaves), and added to many other drinks (those neon-colored energy drinks).  The myths were dispelled about caffeine intake stunting growth, but the experts still say the answer is a big “no.”  The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the consumption of caffeine for all children in adolescents, and the United States has no guidance on the amount of caffeine that is safe for children. 

Caffeine, even in small amounts, can have negative effects on children.  Common side effects in children include diarrhea, difficulty sleeping, jitteriness, changes in blood pressure, and headaches.  An even bigger problem with caffeine consumption in children is that the beverages often contain minimal nutrients and added sugar, and may replace healthier beverages like milk and water.   Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages also increases a child’s risk of obesity, and many popular commercially prepared caffeinated drinks have added sugars and sweeteners. 

Children and adolescents require a wide variety of nutrients to keep their growing bodies strong, and caffeine is not one of them.  Even though it might be difficult to keep your children caffeine-free, you can help by eliminating many sources of caffeine in your home.  Keep soda, iced teas, energy drinks, and coffee beverages out of the refrigerator.  The exception?  Low-fat chocolate milk or hot chocolate made with milk, as these are good sources of calcium.

Though in a much lower concentration than beverages, chocolate is a food source that can contribute additional caffeine to a child's diet.  Dark chocolate has the highest concentration, but limiting all chocolate in a child's diet to special treats or occasions is a helpful way to limit empty calories and additional caffeine.

Truthfully, what 3 year old needs more energy anyway?  As your kids start drinking less caffeine, you might not need that extra latte to keep up with them.

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