Caffeine and 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, but 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 a 12-ounce (355-milliliter) can of soda or four 1.5-ounce (43-gram) milk chocolate bars.
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
- upset stomach
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty sleeping
- increased heart rate
- increased blood pleasure
Especially in young kids, it doesn't take a lot of caffeine to produce these effects.
Other reasons to limit kids' caffeine consumption include:
- Kids who consume one or more 12-ounce (355-milliliter) sweetened soft drink per day are 60% more likely to be obese.
- 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 is a diuretic that causes the body to eliminate water (through urinating), which may contribute to dehydration. Whether the amount of caffeine in beverages is enough to actually cause dehydration is not clear, however. It may depend on whether the person drinking the beverage is used to caffeine and how much caffeine was consumed that day. To be on the safe side, it's wise to avoid excessive caffeine consumption in hot weather, when kids need to replace water lost through perspiration.
- Abruptly stopping caffeine may cause withdrawal symptoms (headaches, muscle aches, temporary depression, and irritability), especially for those who are used to consuming a lot.
- Caffeine can aggravate heart problems or nervous disorders, and some kids may not be aware that they're at risk.
One thing that caffeine doesn't do is stunt growth. Although scientists once worried that caffeine could hinder growth, this isn't supported by research.
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