“Caffeine used to be reserved for adult drinks and treats,” explains Timothy S. Yeh, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. “Now, we are seeing caffeine in more common items; in foods and snacks that kids like to eat.”
Included among the list are chocolate, gum, candy, yogurt, ice cream, coffee drinks popular among the “tween” crowd, and of course soda. Currently, product labels are required to list caffeine in the ingredients, but do not have to list the amount. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, one ounce of milk chocolate contains 6 mg of caffeine and a can of soda can have between 34 mg and 71 mg.
The Effects of Caffeine
In both kids and adults, too much caffeine can cause jitteriness and nervousness;
Studies have shown that regular consumption of caffeine affects children’s moods and behaviors. The National Institute of Mental Health studied 8- to 13-year-olds who regularly consumed high doses of caffeine and were judged to be more restless by teachers. One-third were hyperactive enough to meet the criteria for attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD).
A Stanford study of fifth- and sixth-graders deprived of daily caffeine reported having symptoms including trouble thinking clearly, not feeling energetic, and getting angry. These symptoms were even reported by children who typically consume 28 mg of caffeine a day.
“Caffeine is mildly addicting and overtime becomes habit-forming,”
Dr. Yeh explains that while research in this area is somewhat limited, it is compelling enough to warrant restricting caffeine intake in children to as little as possible. “If there is no need for caffeine, why take the risk and allow children to consume it,” he asks.
Advice For Parents
Despite the overwhelming popularity of caffeine, there are ways to limit the introduction of caffeine products to children. If avoidance is not an option, limit the amount of products children consume. In addition:
• Discourage caffeine use. Substitute water, milk, juice, or something decaffeinated (which is not caffeine-free, but contains less caffeine.)
• If children are not consuming caffeine, try not to introduce it at all, or keep it to a minimum.
• Have children drink plenty of water to flush the toxins from their systems.
• Limit consumption to parties or special occasions.
• Treats like chocolate, coffee ice cream, and hot chocolate are fine in moderation, as they contain less than 20 milligrams of caffeine. Just don’t eat them all at the same time.
• Talk frankly with your children about nutrition.
• Make sure caffeinated drinks are not a substitute for milk or other calcium sources.