News | Published July 7, 2014 | Written by Craig Collison, MD, pediatrics, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Steer children away from problem-causing caffeine

Is your child regularly consuming caffeine? Approximately 73 percent of children and adolescents consume caffeine on a daily basis, according to a new study from a team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was published in the journal Pediatrics.

Caffeine is a stimulant found naturally in items such as coffee, tea and chocolate, but provides no known health benefits.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that healthy adults can consume up to 400 mg – about three to five cups – of caffeine a day and generally not experience any negative side effects, the FDA has not set caffeine recommendations for children and adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend caffeine for children at any level, but many children still consume it.

There are multiple sources of caffeine that kids of all ages can be exposed to and consume on a regular basis. The study found that children consumed caffeine from a variety of drinks, including soda, coffee, energy drinks and tea. Importantly, many diet sodas also contain caffeine.

If a nursing mother is ingesting caffeine, even young babies can be exposed to caffeine through breast milk. Since the FDA does not require manufacturers to list caffeine content on their labels, caffeine can also be found in products like certain jellybeans, gum, medications, chocolate chips, chocolate or coffee flavored ice cream, hot chocolate and more.

Even in seemingly smaller doses, such as half a cup of coffee or half a serving of soda, caffeine can have a negative effect on children’s bodies by raising blood pressure and heart rates. Caffeinated products can also cause other major health risks; for example, soda is the leading cause of childhood obesity in the United States.

As kids prepare to head back to school, they may argue that they need soda, coffee, energy drinks or candy to help them stay awake. The truth is that no one needs caffeine, especially not kids. The best drinks for children are water and milk, both of which are caffeine-free.

Allowing your kids to consume caffeine regularly may make them dependent on it in the future. Caffeine can also cause nervousness, jumpiness, shaky hands, difficulty sleeping, and trouble focusing. Consuming too much caffeine can also cause headaches, stomachaches, and racing heartbeats. In some cases, individuals try to replace sleep with caffeine, which can lead to serious sleep disorders such as insomnia.

If your children complain they’re too tired, encourage them to drink more water. When the body is dehydrated, feeling sluggish and sleepy is common, but water will help to stay alert and focused. Also encourage kids to stay active, as exercise is a natural energy booster.

Remember, children and caffeine can be a dangerous combination. It’s best to think twice before allowing your kids to consume this product.

Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics offers locations in both Bellefonte and Boalsburg. With more than 100 providers, 20 specialties and 15 locations, Mount Nittany Physician Group specializes in providing personalized care for every stage of life. Learn more today at mountnittany.org/physician-group.

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