Caffeine and Children
No. 131; July 2020
Most children and adolescents drink or eat some form of caffeine every day. Caffeine can be found naturally in some plant-based foods and drinks, and is also added to many manufactured products.
Youth most often get caffeine from soda, coffee, and tea, but parents should know that there are many different types of products with large amounts of caffeine available. Checking product labels and ingredient lists is the way to know for sure how much caffeine is in the product. It is important to know different products contain varying amounts of caffeine. Also, your child may not respond to caffeine the same way as another child.
Sources of caffeine include:
- Many sodas
- Tea, including iced teas and sweet tea
- Energy drinks
- Chocolate and some coffee flavored foods (ice creams, yogurts, coffee bean candies)
- Other beverages (water, juices) and snack foods (mints, gummy candy, chewing gum, peanut butter, energy bars) with added caffeine
- Lip balms and some skincare products
- Some non-prescription/over the counter medications
- Supplements (weight loss, energy, and work-out related supplements, combination CBD/caffeine products)
Children and adults may experience a range of effects after using caffeine including:
- Jumpiness, hyperactivity, and anxiety
- Nausea and lack of appetite
- Tremor and dizziness
- Increased energy and reduced fatigue
- Improved focus and task completion
Symptoms of caffeine overdose can include vomiting, high blood pressure, racing heart, heart rhythm problems, and, less commonly, disorientation and hallucinations. Each year, thousands of people, some of them children, receive emergency treatment related to caffeine use. Youth with certain health conditions such as heart problems, seizures, or migraines may be more at risk for caffeine-related problems than others.
Even without overdose, others experience problems with long term use. Some risks associated with long-term caffeine use may include:
- Sleep problems (difficulty falling asleep and poor sleep)
- Irritability and mood problems
- Increased stress hormone levels
- Needing higher doses of caffeine to achieve the desired effect
- Cravings and withdrawal symptoms (including tiredness, headaches, mood changes, and problems concentrating) when everyday caffeine is stopped
- Increased risk of panic, anger, violence, risk-taking, and substance use problems
- Increased sugar intake when using sugary caffeinated products
- More difficulty quitting other substances (such as nicotine) and limiting alcohol use when combined with caffeine
Ways to help youth decrease caffeine intake
Children view advertising for caffeinated products on many different platforms, and they are also watching how their parents and friends use caffeine. It is best for parents to educate their children about common sources of caffeine and how to read food and drink labels. Talk openly and freely about your child’s caffeine use to understand their ideas about the risks and benefits of caffeine.
There is no proven safe dose of caffeine for children. Product regulations are based on practices dating as far back as the 1940’s. At this time, pediatricians advise against caffeine for children under 12 and against any use of energy drinks for all children and teens. They also suggest limiting caffeine to at most 100 mg (about two 12 oz cans of cola) daily for those 12-18 years old.
If you are concerned about your child’s caffeine use, talk with your child’s pediatrician, child psychiatrist or mental health professional about whether more intensive help or guidance is needed.
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