The Caffeinated Generation

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Today's kids consume more caffeine than ever before. Studies show that caffeine intake among children and adolescents has increased 70 percent over the last 30 years. And there's more enticement than ever. Modern branding, celebrity spokespeople and multiple flavor varieties are all elements that appeal to young people. So weather it's soft drinks, energy drinks or iced coffees, there's a caffeinated beverage for every kid's taste.

All of this caffeine consumption does come with a price, however. It can impact a child's health and well-being in both the short term and long term, says Melissa Moses, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian with Brenner Children's Hospital. Here are some of the areas in which Moses says caffeine is particularly harmful:

  • Trouble at School. Caffeine intake can lead to headaches, jitteriness, irritability, difficulty concentrating and lack of sleep. Such symptoms can interfere with a child's school day, making it more difficult for her to focus on her schoolwork.
  • Cardiovascular Risks. Because caffeine can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, it can be dangerous to children and teens who have known or undiagnosed heart problems. In rare cases, it can even lead to death in such kids.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues. Caffeine stimulates extra stomach acid. This can lead to gastrointestinal disorders like acid reflux and heartburn.
  • Interference with Calcium Absorption. One of the long-term effects of caffeine consumption is its interference with calcium absorption. And, because caffeinated beverages often replace healthier drinks, like milk, they can further hinder a child's calcium intake. Inadequate calcium can lead to weaker bones in children.
  • Mild Addiction. While caffeine isn't likely to lead to a dangerous addiction, it can cause a mild chemical dependence, which can make it difficult for your child to give up the habit.
  • Increased Sugar Intake. Many caffeinated drinks, like sodas, sweet tea and energy drinks, also have a lot of sugar. Increased sugar consumption can increase a child's risk of obesity.

As a parent, you may be wondering how you can help your child consume less caffeine. Fortunately, there are also plenty of flavorful alternatives on the market. Flavored water, low-sugar sports drinks and flavor sticks for water are options you might want to consider. You can also make homemade flavored water for your child by putting slices of pineapple, watermelon or cucumber in a glass of water. In addition, many tea and soft drink brands come in decaffeinated varieties. And when it comes to soft drinks versus energy drinks, soft drinks are usually a better option simply because their caffeine content is regulated by the Food and Drug and Administration (FDA).

When your child does drink a caffeinated beverage, Moses recommends that it not be consumed past noon. "It takes about five to seven hours to eliminate just half of the caffeine from your body," she says. "Sleep is very important to a child's health and school performance, so caffeine intake should always be limited and consumed as far away from bedtime as possible."

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Last Updated: 04-14-2014
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