Before the invasion of coffeehouses, people seldom requested sprinkles or whipped cream atop their morning java. But today, establishments like Starbucks have made the traditional breakfast beverage look more like dessert. The inevitable by-product of coffee masquerading as a banana split is the increasing number of children consuming it.
“The short and long-term effect of caffeine on kids’ health is something every parent should take note of,” explains Stanley Grogg, DO, an AOA board-certified pediatrician in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Most adults are aware of the fact that caffeine is a stimulus and tends to make children hyperactive, but they don’t recognize the other symptoms.”
In moderate doses, caffeine can cause insomnia, headaches, dizziness, irritability, dehydration and can slow the absorption of calcium, which is needed for strong teeth and bones.
“While coffee is an increasingly accepted caffeinated drink with young children today, parents should also pay close attention to other caffeinated beverages like soda, teas and popular energy drinks,” warns Dr. Grogg.
Furthermore, the growing market and availability of caffeinated beverages make Americans even more likely to consume them in lieu of other vital fluids necessary to a healthy diet, he explains.
“Children are choosing soda instead of water, juice and milk, even though the latter are essential elements of their diets,” says Dr. Grogg.
In addition, caffeine acts as a strong diuretic. Consequently, allowing your child a caffeinated drink before bedtime will ensure at least one nighttime trip to the bathroom.
“While studies have shown that caffeine can cause a physical dependence and result in withdrawal symptoms such as headache, fatigue and muscle ache, many parents forget that this substance is a drug,” explains Dr. Grogg. “Children who have become accustomed to 3-4 caffeinated drinks per day will have some type of reaction if they’re denied their ‘daily fix.’”
Tips for Parents
Only a parent can determine how much caffeine is too much for their children, but Dr. Grogg advises parents to frequently educate themselves on the caffeine content of their children’s preferred beverages. Also, when investigating caffeine content, bear in mind that manufacturers need only report caffeine that has been added to a product. For a quick review of the caffeine content in common beverages, refer to the table below.
Beverage total caffeine content (milligrams)
8 oz. coffee
8 oz. iced tea
12 oz. Coca-Cola
12 oz. Mountain Dew
16 oz. Monster Energy
8.5 oz. Red Bull
To keep your children happy and help prevent caffeine addiction, Dr. Grogg suggests the following tips:
Watch your children’s caffeine intake. Discourage them from drinking more than one soda a day or super-sizing their drink.
Give your children an appealing alternative. Have juices or flavored water readily available.
Don’t try to substitute diet soda for regular. Diet may have less sugar, but it actually contains more caffeine.
If you are a five-cup a day coffee drinker, remember that your children are watching.
“With over 80% of America’s adults consuming caffeine on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that our children have followed suit,” says Dr. Grogg. “As parents, it’s up to you to set the example for your kids.”