September 19, 2008
By Crystal L. Nguyen
Do you think 193 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, equal to 8 ounces of coffee too much for children to consume? If only caffeine was a nutrient, having high amounts of it would be good, but not in this case. Consuming high amounts of caffeine at a young age or even as an adult can have some negative effects depending on one’s body weight, genetics and level of tolerance. Having too much caffeine can cause cramps, muscle twitching, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Previous studies including one conducted in 2004 at the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University have shown that caffeine can interfere with calcium absorption, which can lead to bone loss over time if there is not already enough calcium in the body. Studies suggest children with a 5% to 10% deficit of calcium in their bone mass may have a 50% risk of hip fractures when they become older adults.
These are serious health threats and until now, there are no federal recommendations in the U.S. regarding the intake of caffeine. 193 mg is a high amount when compared to the Canadian government’s recommendation on caffeine. Based on these guidelines, it recommends less than 45 mg per day for children ages 4 to 6, children ages 7 to 9, less than 62.5 mg per day and ages 10 to 12, less than 85 mg per day. As for teens, they should have less than 100 mg per day, almost half of what U.S. children are consuming.
Drink/Food/Supplement Amt. of Drink/Food Amt. of Caffeine
Brewed coffee (drip method) 5 ounces 115 mg* Iced tea 12 ounces 70 mg* Coca-Cola 12 ounces 34 mg Diet Coke 12 ounces 45 mg Pepsi 12 ounces 38 mg 7-Up 12 ounces 0 mg Mountain Dew 12 ounces 55 mg Jolt cola 12 ounces 72 mg SoBe No Fear 8 ounces 83 mg Monster energy drink 16 ounces 160 mg Rockstar energy drink 8 ounces 80 mg Red Bull energy drink 8.3 ounces 80 mg Cocoa beverage 5 ounces 4 mg* Chocolate milk beverage 8 ounces 5 mg* Dark chocolate 1 ounce 20 mg* Milk chocolate 1 ounce 6 mg* Cold relief medication 1 tablet 30 mg* Excedrin extra strength 2 tablets 130 mg *denotes average amount of caffeine
Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration & National Soft Drink Association, Center for Science in the Public Interest.
As adults, we can help children make healthy decisions about beverages in order to avoid excessive amounts of caffeine. However, this is may be easier said than done. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to list caffeine in the ingredient list only if it has been added to the product, but not the amount of mg on the nutrition label. This makes it hard for consumers to know exactly how much caffeine is actually in the product. Avoiding caffeine completely may be hard since some foods naturally have caffeine in it like coffee beans, tea leaves and chocolate. Yet taking small steps to reduce the intake of caffeine is a great way to start. Serve less caffeinated beverages and slowly replace them with non-caffeinated drinks. Try diluting caffeinated beverages with carbonated water, also known as club soda, seltzer, or sparkling mineral water. Offer milk, 100% fruit juice and water. Eating a well-balanced diet, staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep, playing and being active will give them plenty of energy the more natural way.
Crystal L. Nguyen, M.A. is a Health Educator with UCSD Nutrition Link, an elementary school nutrition education program. Nutrition Link is funded by USDA’s Food Stamp Program through the California Department of Public Health.