Kids and caffeine: What are the risks?
Published Wednesday, September 28, 2011 8:13AM EDT
What are the risks to kids if they consume caffeine?
Caffeine has the same side effects in kids and teenagers as it does on adults. Too much caffeine can make kids irritable, jittery and anxious. It can cause stomach aches and headaches and it can affect concentration in the classroom. And it can keep them up at night. A recent study found that older kids who drank more caffeine slept less than younger kids who drank less.
These effects are stronger in children because their bodies are smaller. In other words, it takes only a small amount of caffeine to feel an effect.
Research also suggests the more caffeine teenagers consume, the more calories they consume including junk food. Some researchers think that caffeine is conditioning the brain's reward centre to want foods they really shouldn't eat.
Where are kids getting caffeine from?
It's surprising how much caffeine kids actually consume. A U.S. study of five to 12 year-olds published last December found than 75 per cent of kids consumed caffeine on a daily basis -- an average of three cans of cola each day. But it's not only from soft drinks. More and more kids are drinking coffee and lattes regularly.
Kids get caffeine in colas (diet and regular), iced tea, energy drinks, chocolate bars, brownies, chocolate milk, coffee, tea, and frozen coffee drinks. And all that caffeine adds up.
Sources of caffeine (milligrams)
- Coffee, 12 oz. 175-265
- Coffee, decaf, 12 oz. 4
- Caffe Latte, 16 oz. (e.g. Grande) 150
- Iced Caffe Mocha, 16 oz. 175 mg
- Frappuccino, 16 oz. 90-150
- Tea, black or green, 8 oz 8-55
- Cola, 355 ml (1 can) 36-46
- Red Bull, 250 ml 80
- Monster Energy, 463 mL 160
- Iced tea 15-100
- Chocolate milk, 500 ml 14
- Milk chocolate, 30 g 7
- Dark chocolate, 30 g 20-60
- Brownie 10
Is there a caffeine limit for kids? How many servings of these foods does that translate to?
Yes there are recommended caffeine limits set by Health Canada. Children aged four to six should consume no more than 45 mg caffeine each day. That's roughly the caffeine equivalent of one can of cola. Kids aged 7 to 9 should get no more than 62 milligrams of caffeine daily -- one can of cola plus a 30 g square of dark chocolate. The upper daily limit for 10 to 12 years old kids is 85 milligrams -- basically two cans of cola.
There are no guidelines for teenagers but some experts feel the safe upper limit is 2 milligrams per kilogram body weight. So for a 150 lb (68 kg) teenager, that means no more than 135 milligrams of caffeine per day. That's a small (8 ounce) cup of coffee worth -- this 16 ounce latte has 150 milligrams. The same sized regular coffee could have as much as 350 milligrams of caffeine!
What if a teenager already has a coffee habit? How should he/she cut back?
A one cup of coffee per day habit can easily turn into several if teenagers drink caffeine to stay awake to study at night.
It's important to cut caffeine gradually -- over a period of three to four weeks. Abruptly stopping caffeine can make kids feel lousy. Withdrawal symptoms include headaches, muscle soreness, irritability and temporary depression.
Concerned parents should track how many caffeinated drinks their child has each day. Substitute one caffeinated drink per week with a caffeine free alternative until below the upper caffeine limit.