Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

How caffeine affects children

caffeineMost of your parents wouldn't dream of giving you a cup of coffee, but they may readily give you soft drinks containing caffeine.  Though soft drinks may be tasty and sweet, it's a good idea to keep caffeine consumption to a minimum, especially if you are young.
Although there are no guidelines in Malaysia, Canada recommend that preschool children get no more than 45 milligrams of caffeine a day. That's equivalent to the average amount of caffeine found in a 355-milliliter (12-ounce) can of cola soft drink, or four 43-gram milk chocolate bars. An 8-ounce energy drinks has more caffeine – 80 mg and caffeine is found even in some carbonated fruit soft-drinks.

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
  •  headaches
  •  difficulty concentrating
  •  difficulty sleeping
  •  increased heart rate
  •  increased blood pressure
Especially in young children, it doesn't take a lot of caffeine to produce these effects.

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.
Which Foods and Beverages Contain Caffeine?

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
 
The best way to cut caffeine (and added sugar) from your child's diet is to eliminate cola soft drinks. Instead, drink water, barley, lime or other 100% fruit juice.

Find out more about how caffeine can affect your children in the CAP Guide, How Toxic Is Your Cup Of Coffee?