Caffeine may be common in many products popular among children, but the stimulant does have some negative side effects.
Coffee, soda, tea, chocolate, and other caffeinated consumables have become so commonplace in day-to-day life, most of us forget to stop and consider the health impact. While adults are able to drink a few cups of coffee or tea per day without feeling anything more intense than an energy rush, caffeine does have an adverse effect on children. However, their intake can still be managed responsibly with a little bit of care and oversight.
Caffeine, Soda, and Coffee Safety for Children: What to Know
Products such as soda, coffee, energy drinks, and tea aren’t regulated when it comes to how much caffeine they can contain when they’re marketed toward children and teenagers. In general, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages parents from giving their kids any caffeine at all.
Johns Hopkins University notes that in Canada, healthcare officials recommend that the following amounts of caffeine are generally safe for children:
- Age 4 through 6: 45 milligrams
- Age 7 through 9: 62.5 milligrams
- Age 10 through 12: 85 milligrams
- Teens: 85 to 100 milligrams
For reference, Johns Hopkins says that the 45 milligram maximum is equivalent to the amount of caffeine in a half a cup of black coffee. MedlinePlus also notes that there is between 35 to 45 milligrams of caffeine in one 12 oz. can of soda.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a stimulant that keeps the nervous system alert, and is typically available for consumption in beverage form. It occurs naturally in tea, coffee, and chocolate. However, manufacturers add caffeine to sodas, energy drinks, sports beverages, and other products meant to provide a jolt of energy.
It takes the human body about 45 minutes to absorb caffeine after drinking or eating it, with a peak in energy lasting about 15 minutes to two hours.
Caffeine Side Effects in Children
As a stimulant, caffeine impacts your kids’ growing bodies much more intensely than it does an adult’s. Some of the most common side effects experienced by children who consume caffeine include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Shakiness and/or tremors
- Increased heart rate and/or heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Upset stomach
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Routine caffeine consumption can disrupt a kid’s mental, physical, and social development, particularly when it comes to absorbing calcium. If your child lives with heart issues, circulatory health challenges, mental health challenges, kidney disease, or other conditions, their pediatrician may recommend that they refrain from ingesting caffeine entirely. Caffeine can worsen the symptoms of such illnesses.
Children whose diets have adapted to three to four servings of caffeine per day may experience withdrawal symptoms if their parents decide to wean them off the stimulant. Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include headaches, fatigue, and body aches. Speak to your child’s doctor if you’re concerned about your child’s health while reducing or eliminating caffeine from their diet.
How to Regulate Your Child’s Caffeine, Soda, or Coffee Intake
Caffeine in and of itself has a neutral nutritional profile, containing neither helpful vitamins and minerals nor harmful trans fats, cholesterol, or excessive sodium. However, the caffeine products that most appeal to children, such as sodas and energy drinks, often contain unhealthy additives such as sugar.
Parents hoping to monitor and regulate how much caffeine their child can safely consume per day should keep these other ingredients in mind as well. Unsweetened teas are the healthiest options to offer children who are allowed to consume small amounts of caffeine, as sugar-free sodas and energy drinks may contain more caffeine than their sweetened counterparts.
Mayo Clinic offers an easy-to-follow guide to how much caffeine can be found in some of the most common beverages that kids and teens may enjoy. Please keep in mind that these numbers are general and don’t account for every caffeinated product on the market.
Parents limiting their children’s caffeine intake should consider checking the individual products for a better idea of how many milligrams of caffeine your child drinks per day.
Alternatives to Caffeine, Soda, and Coffee
Regardless of whether or not you’re limiting your kids’ caffeine intake or entirely eliminating the stimulant from their diet, it’s a good idea to teach them how to make smart, healthy choices when choosing what to drink or eat. Encourage them to try some of the different options out there and pick the ones that they enjoy tasting and find the most energizing.
Some of the possible alternatives to caffeine, soda, and coffee that your children might want to drink include:
- Low-fat, fat-free, or plant-based milk (make it a golden milk for healthy, child-friendly decadence)
- Sparkling water with sliced fruit
- Herbal teas (yerba mate and yaupon teas excepted, as these contain caffeine)
- Sugar-free, 100% fruit and/or vegetable juice
- Sugar-free coconut water
- Sugar-free homemade lemonade
- Sugar-free hot carob drinks made with low-fat, fat-free, or plant-based milk
- Homemade smoothies
- Chicory “coffee” (not suitable for kids with ragweed allergies)
- Peanut “coffee” (not suitable for kids with peanut allergies)
Many of these options—such as smoothies, lemonade, and hot carob drinks—can be made from scratch at home, empowering kids and teens to take a direct hand in their own nutrition.
Health for the Whole Family
Patients ER serves Baytown families in need of emergency care. We’re here to help you with anything you and your loved ones require to ensure optimal health and safety. Find us at 10133 Interstate 10 East Baytown, TX 77521, or give us a call at 281-619-2991 whenever you need our care.