September 19, 2008

Are Kids too Caffeinated?

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.

Caffeine Chart
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.

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