Ah, sweet caffeine. That wonderous little compound in your coffee that gives you a burst of energy in the morning and the motivation to get through the day. It’s part of a normal routine for many adults today. But what is it really?
It is classified as a drug. More specifically, it’s a stimulant, meaning it speeds up the messages sent from your brain to your body. That’s what causes your spike in energy! It can be found in coffee, chocolate, tea and more.
Depending on your size, age and how much or how often you ingest caffeine, your reactions to it could vary. It could give you that much-needed boost in energy, but it could also cause dizziness, anxiety, irritability, dehydration, high temperature, fast heart rate, headache and stomach pain.
So that begs the question: If caffeine can cause these side effects in adults, how much more can it negatively affect children and adolescents?
How much caffeine do children actually get?
Though adults can safely consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day, according to the Mayo Clinic, kids and teens age 12-18 should limit their intake to 100 mg per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than 12 should not consume caffeine at all.
You might be thinking, “Children don’t typically drink coffee. Therefore, they don’t get a lot of caffeine.” Well, your child might crinkle his nose at your steaming cup of Joe, but he can get his fill of caffeine through other popular beverages.
Pop and energy drinks are the go-to picker-uppers for today’s youth. According to a national survey in 2014 published in the journal Pediatrics by the AAP, 73 percent of U.S. children consume caffeine every day.
Looking past the sugar and other unhealthy additives in these drinks, the caffeine alone can throw your child’s health into disarray. These drinks contain a lot more than you might think, and it’s not always clear from the label how much they actually contain.
Energy drinks should be monitored closely. The amount of caffeine can vary depending on the product, but the APP reports that some energy drinks have more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is equal to 14 cans of a caffeinated soft drink.
The widespread popularity and acceptance of these drinks being used by youth can make it difficult to stop their use. But regular ingestion of high amounts of caffeine can have harmful effects on the developing mind of these young people.
How does caffeine affect children?
The effects of caffeine on adults have been widely studied. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the effects of caffeine on kids and teens. However, the research that has been done has raised valid concerns about the negative effects it has on their development.
One of the most researched is the link between caffeine use and getting less sleep. When children begin drinking caffeine as early as 12 years old, they can develop sleep problems such as shorter sleep times, difficulty falling asleep, poor sleep quality, and sleepiness during the day. The National Sleep Foundation says that lack of sleep can impact mental and physical development as well as cause behavioral problems and mood swings.
If they continue or increase their caffeine intake into high school, they are almost two times as likely to have trouble sleeping. Problems getting to sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, which could ultimately lead to more caffeine consumption. Over time, they can develop a tolerance to caffeine, which means they need to consume even more in order to feel the effects.
Children are also susceptible to experiencing addiction to caffeine and withdrawal symptoms that include headache, fatigue, decreased alertness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, depressed mood, flu-like symptoms and more.
The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee reports that the more caffeine that children ingest, the more risk they have of developing anxiety or experiencing withdrawal.
Additional concerns regarding the use of caffeine in children include anxiety, increased heart rate or arrhythmia, high blood pressure, diarrhea and higher BMI.
In addition, caffeine consumption in adolescents is linked to nicotine use, and they could be at risk of other substance abuse.
While researchers have just begun to scratch the surface of studying the short- and long-term effects of caffeine on kids and teens, it’s a good idea to be mindful in the meantime of how much caffeine our children are consuming.