May 2, 2018

Understanding caffeine's impact on kids

Most parents would love to have an ounce of their child's energy. Science supports the fact that children under the age of 7 years do have more energy than older children and adults.

Some researchers attribute it to their deep breathing pattern, which is more effective at oxygenating cells, and others to a child's ability to live in-the-moment, not distracted by anxiety, worry or regret. What happens when the already-energized child consumes caffeine?

In recent years, caffeine intake among children, adolescents and young adults has significantly increased and now approximately 75% consume caffeine regularly. In small amounts, this stimulant can make young individuals feel more alert and bolsters their already present energy. In large doses, caffeine can impose irritability and anxiety, increase blood pressure and heart rate and impair calcium metabolism and sleep. This drug can also be lethal.

Because caffeine is found in common foods and beverages such as chocolate, ice cream, soda, tea it is important to keep tabs upon how much caffeine our children are consuming.

How much caffeine is too much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children under the age of 12 years avoid caffeine and those older than 12 years can tolerate 85 to 100 mg of caffeine daily. The Food and Drug Administration has not set guidelines for safe caffeine consumption, however the Canadian government notes that children under the age of 12 years can handle caffeine in the following amounts:

  • 4 to 6 years: < 45 mg (equivalent to 12 fl oz Cola or 8 oz of tea)

  • 7 to 9 years: < 62 mg (equivalent to 1 oz of espresso)

  • 10 to 12 years: < 85 mg (equivalent to 8 oz of home-brewed coffee)

The upper limit of caffeine toxicity in children remains unknown and therefore, it is essential to monitor intake, especially in a child's early years. As adolescents are the prime target for energy drink advertisements, monitoring caffeine intake into teen years is also crucial. Additionally, high school athletes may also experiment with caffeine pills to boost performance during sports and physical activities. These concentrated doses and contain up to 1600mg of caffeine in a single teaspoon.

Recommendations for parents

  • Monitor your child's caffeine intake and discourage excess. By making water and white milk your child's number on beverages, caffeine is not a concern. However, 1 serving of Cola can expose your child to toxic levels depending upon their age.

  • Find alternatives to caffeine-rich foods and beverages. Assorted sparkling waters can be unique drinks to explore. While caffeine is being added to more and more foods today, there are still original forms of these foods to partake in from jelly beans to protein bars.

  • Discuss the dangers of caffeine with your teens and seek to understand their intentions. If it's energy that your child is seeking, explore more healthful strategies to achieve restorative sleep such as an earlier bed time, decreasing screen time in the evening, deep breathing techniques and mindfulness.

  • Rule out sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where a person repeatedly stops and restarts breathing during sleep. Common symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring and feeling tired after a full night's rest.