Caffeine is not just in in sodas, coffee, tea and energy drinks — more and more “wired” food products, such as gum, jelly beans, sunflower seeds, marshmallows and instant oatmeal are on the market today. Approximately 75 percent of children, adolescents and young adults in the United States consumes caffeine, a compound that stimulates the central nervous system. In small doses, caffeine may help people of all ages feel more alert, awake or energetic. But what if you have more than just a little? In large doses, caffeine may cause irritability, impaired calcium metabolism, anxiety, rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure and sleep problems. In fact, one study found that kids who consumed the most caffeine slept the fewest hours.
Since caffeine is in common beverages including colas and teas, parents and others may unknowingly offer excessive amounts of caffeine to children. Teens often deliberately consume large amounts.
Some teens find that caffeine helps them perform better in school and on tests. If your teen carries a heavy academic load, caffeine-containing foods and beverages may be tempting to help improve concentration during school and then again at night to stay up late for studying. Unfortunately, this can create a cycle of being unable to sleep because of the effects of caffeine, consuming more caffeine to fight fatigue from lack of sleep and then having trouble falling asleep again.
How Much is Too Much?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no set guidelines for safe caffeine consumption for children — for adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day or the equivalent of 4 to 5 cups of coffee as safe. The Canadian government, however, recommends the following daily caffeine limits for children.
- Ages 4 – 6 years: 45 milligrams, about the amount in one can of cola
- Ages 7 – 9 years: 62 milligrams
- Ages 10 to 12 years: 85 milligrams
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of caffeine and other stimulants by children and adolescents.
Helping your Kids Limit Caffeine
If your kids act jittery or anxious, or if they have trouble sleeping, reducing their caffeine intake is a smart idea. Since coffee, tea and soft drinks contribute more caffeine to the diet than other foods and beverages, limiting these beverages is a good place to start. Steer clear of foods with added caffeine. Children and adolescents should completely avoid these products.
If it's energy your kids are seeking, getting to bed earlier or taking a short nap is more productive than consuming caffeine that offers pep for a short time, but may interfere with sleep later that evening.
Caffeine in Selected Foods and Beverages
|Coffee, 12 fl oz, coffee shop variety||260|
|Energy drinks, 8 fl oz||47-163|
|Espresso, 1 fl oz||64|
|Candy, semi-sweet chocolate, 1 oz*||18|
|Hot chocolate, 12 fl oz, coffee shop variety*||20|
|Hot tea, 1 cup||48|
|Cola, 12 fl oz||48|
*Chocolate and chocolate containing foods are not a major source of caffeine.