By: Stephanie Shabangu, Penfield Children’s Center
Is it okay for children to consume caffeine? If so, what is the limit? These days, children ingest increasing amounts of caffeine. According to U.S. News and World Report, most children consume caffeine from soda. Children also have easy access to coffee and energy drinks, caffeinated gum and candy bars.
Why does this matter? Well, caffeine, in its most easy-to-understand form is essentially a drug. It stimulates your child’s brain and organs, heart rate and blood pressure. Caffeine can also cause your child to become jittery, feel nervous and develop problems with concentration during school and sleeping. Children who consume large amounts of caffeine can also experience an upset stomach, among other issues.
If your child has an underlying cardiac problem, he might be at risk for a more severe medical event after consuming caffeine.
Important reasons to eliminate and/or greatly reduce your child’s caffeine consumption:
- On average, caffeine takes 3-7 hours to leave the body, thus easily causing sleep disturbances.
- Medically speaking, caffeine actually blocks a chemical (adenosine) that calms the brain. By blocking this chemical, stress hormones can increase.
- Because children can be picky eaters, it’s important to make sure the foods and beverages they eat and drink are nutrient-rich. Your child does not need caffeine as it does not have any type of nutrient, such as calcium or protein to keep his young body healthy.
- Caffeine withdrawal can affect children, just as it does adults. Children can become irritable and might complain of actually feeling sluggish and unable to keep up with their friends.
Psychology Today also reports that a few long-term studies have shown a link between increased caffeine consumption and future issues with anger and aggression.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 12 years and younger do not consume any caffeinated foods or beverages. After reaching the age of 13, they suggest no more than 85-100 milligrams each day. For example, one 12oz soda can contain about 40 milligrams of caffeine, while an 8oz coffee might pack 100mg of caffeine or more.
While it might be difficult to restrict all foods and beverages containing caffeine from your child’s diet, it’s important for parents and caregivers to be aware of what their child consumes in order to monitor how the child reacts to different types of foods.
Some great, kid-friendly alternatives to snacks containing caffeine include fresh fruit smoothies and whole-grain crackers with peanut butter. Both options will help give your little one a burst of energy when he’s hungry. In addition, modelling positive food/beverage choices and developing healthy nutritional habits when a child is as young as toddlerhood can be beneficial later. For example, a toddler who is offered only water and milk to drink will most likely choose not to drink juice or soda later on.
What healthy foods and beverages do you offer your child to keep him going throughout the day?