Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, cocoa and in cola, diet, energy and other soft drinks. Caffeine is a drug that's naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. Caffeine is also made artificially and added to certain foods. Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system. At lower levels, caffeine can make people feel more alert and like they have more energy.
In both kids and adults, too much caffeine can cause:
- jitteriness and nervousness
- upset stomach
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty sleeping
- increased heart rate
- increased blood pressure
Other reasons to limit kids' caffeine consumption include:
- Consuming one 355-milliliter sweetened soft drink per day increases a child's risk of obesity by 60%.
- Not only do caffeinated beverages contain empty calories (calories that don't provide any nutrients), but kids who fill up on them don't get the vitamins and minerals they need from healthy sources, putting them at risk for developing nutritional deficiencies. In particular, children who drink too much soda (which usually starts between the third and eighth grades) may miss getting the calcium they need from milk to build strong bones and teeth.
- Drinking too many sweetened caffeinated drinks could lead to dental cavities (or caries) from the high sugar content and the erosion of the enamel of the teeth from the acidity. Not convinced that sodas can wreak that much havoc on kids' teeth? Consider this: One 355-milliliter non-diet, carbonated soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar.
- Caffeine is a diuretic that causes the body to eliminate water (through urinating), which may contribute to dehydration. Caffeine may be an especially poor choice in hot weather, when children need to replace water lost through perspiration.
- Abruptly stopping caffeine may cause withdrawal symptoms (headaches, muscle aches, temporary depression, and irritability), especially for those who are used to consuming a lot.
- Caffeine can aggravate heart problems or nervous disorders, and some children may not be aware that they're at risk.
Although kids get most of their caffeine from cola, diet, energy and some other soft drinks, it's also found in coffee, tea, chocolate, coffee ice cream and some other foods. Some parents may give their children iced tea in place of soda, thinking that it's a better alternative. But iced tea can contain as much sugar and caffeine as cola soft drinks.
Cutting Out Caffeine
Find out more about how caffeine can affect your children in the CAP Guide, How Toxic Is Your Cup Of Coffee?