Many of the foods and beverages that children and teenagers want contain caffeine. You can find caffeine in fizzy drinks, energy drinks and chocolates, even in hot chocolate. If these are some of your child’s favorites, they may be consuming more caffeine than you think.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 73 percent of children consume caffeine almost every day. This is about 3 out of 4 children who regularly consume caffeine. Most of these children get caffeine from the soft drinks they drink. But soda consumption is declining, according to the CDC. It is replaced by energy drinks and coffee.
Is Caffeine Harmful to My Child?
Caffeine is a stimulant. Moreover, it is a drug. It is defined as a medicine because it has a physiological effect on the body. This means that it affects the functioning of the body. In this case, it stimulates the central nervous system. In adults, this means that you can be more vigilant, even if they give you more energy. In children, caffeine can raise blood pressure and interfere with sleep. This can make children less aware that they are tired. This can affect your mood and worsen your anxiety. They may even get a headache from stopping caffeine.
Not much is known about how caffeine affects a child’s developing brain. But children (especially young children) can be sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not proposed a recommendation for caffeine for children or adolescents. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that caffeine not be part of a child’s diet.
How about my teenage son?
As more and more teenagers switch from fizzy drinks to energy drinks, they have become a focal point for caffeine consumption.
The AAP states that children should not consume energy drinks and that they rarely need sports drinks. “Energy drinks pose potential health risks due to the stimulants they contain and should never be consumed by children or adolescents,” according to the AAP.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) says the FDA should create guidelines for energy drinks. Labels must be standard and correct. Products must be tested and controlled. AAFP also opposes the marketing and sale of energy products to children under the age of 18.
The hidden caffeine
You already know that carbonated drinks, coffee, energy drinks and chocolate contain caffeine. What you may not know is that caffeine is sometimes “hidden” in other foods and beverages. And you won’t even find it on the label. Because caffeine is not a nutrient, food manufacturers are not required to list it on food labels.
Here are some examples of foods and beverages that may contain caffeine:
- ice cream
- decaffeinated coffee
- protein bars
- a little sarsaparilla
- flavored soft drinks (not car)
The road to better health
It is difficult to completely avoid caffeine. But you can work to minimize the amount of caffeine your child consumes each day.
A good start is to try to eliminate soft drinks from your child’s diet. If your child drinks a lot of soda, you may need to start weaning slowly. Start by limiting the amount of soda your child drinks to zero. In return, offer your child drinking water or milk. These are two of the best drinks for children. If your child is active, resist the urge to offer sports drinks.
It may be harder to persuade teenagers to limit their drinks to milk and water. Your teenager may tell you that he needs the energy boost that caffeine provides. If so, encourage them to exercise. Exercise can make your child sleep better and have more energy.
Aspects to be considered
Many caffeinated beverages are also loaded with sugar. Carbonated drinks, flavored coffees and energy drinks can add hundreds of calories to your child’s diet. Over time, it can make you obese. Sugar also increases the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Sugar drinks are also bad for your child’s teeth. They can cause tooth decay.
When to go to the doctor
If you suspect that your child may have overdosed on caffeine, you should contact your doctor immediately. Overdose is rare, but it does happen. According to the Poison Control Center, signs of a possible caffeine overdose can be mild or severe. Mild symptoms include trembling hands (nervousness) and upset stomach. Serious symptoms include high blood pressure, seizures and even coma (loss of consciousness).
Questions to your doctor
- Are there any health benefits associated with caffeine?
- At what age can a person safely consume caffeine?
- What other health risks to children are associated with caffeine?
- How can I find out which foods contain caffeine?
- If my child stops caffeine now, do I have to worry about any withdrawal symptoms?
National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Caffeine
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides an overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.