Caffeine and kids

In so many instances as I advise people on healthy lifestyles for their families I will think to myself: “you hypocrite, you’re no one to talk!” One area where I am on 100% safe ground is caffeine consumption.  Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world–more than alcohol or tobacco, consumed by at least 90% of adults; the average American drinks about 280mg/day.  I rarely partake.  So here I can pompously look down from my perch of near perfect abstinence and lecture you sinners.

More seriously, though, please consider these effects of caffeine on your body:

  1. CNS–increased alertness.  Too much can cause headache, irritability, even seizures.  It’s a common cause of sleep problems in kids
  2. Cardiovascular–increases heartrate and blood pressure
  3. Gastrointestinal–increases stomach acidity.  It can exacerbate reflux disease and esophagitis and even lead to ulcers.
  4. Metabolic–increases urine output.  Note the not uncommon practice among some teens to consume “energy drinks” before training or working out.  These products can have 2-3x the caffeine content of coffee and can increase your child’s risk of dangerous dehydration during practice/games.

A few fallacies about caffeine–it does not stunt your child’s growth; while it does slightly decrease calcium absorption it is probably not enough to have any adverse effect on bone mineralization.  On the other hand, while it is sometimes used as a perceived milder alternative treatment for ADHD, most evidence is that this is largely ineffectual.

Here’s a list of caffeine content in common items in a child’s diet (from “KidsHealth” by Nemours):

Item Amount of Item Amount of Caffeine
Jolt soft drink 12 ounces 71.2 mg
Mountain Dew 12 ounces 55.0 mg
Coca-Cola 12 ounces 34.0 mg
Diet Coke 12 ounces 45.0 mg
Pepsi 12 ounces 38.0 mg
7-Up 12 ounces 0 mg
brewed coffee (drip method) 5 ounces 115 mg*
iced tea 12 ounces 70 mg*
dark chocolate 1 ounce 20 mg*
milk chocolate 1 ounce 6 mg*
cocoa beverage 5 ounces 4 mg*
chocolate milk beverage 8 ounces 5 mg*
cold relief medication 1 table 30

Again, note that “energy drinks” can commonly have 200-300 mg of caffeine/serving.

Generally, safe levels of caffeine consumption/day are:

  • Adults–300-400 mg
  • Teens–100 mg
  • 10-12–85 mg
  • 7-9–60 mg
  • <7–45 mg

So please keep the above in mind for your child’s diet/routine/activity.

One final thought: another not uncommon practice among some teens is to combine caffeine and alcohol consumption; the idea being that the caffeine mitigates alcohol’s effects.  Not true.  First of all, drinking both gives you double the diuretic effect and risk of dehydration.  More importantly, please note that caffeine makes the consumer more alert but no more sober.  Consumiing caffeine adds zero benefit or safety factor to the dangerous practice of drinking and driving.  Make sure your teens are aware of this important fact.

Send along questions and comments; thanks for following.

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