Caffeine and kids: a harmful combination?

There currently isn’t a lot of information out there about the specific effects of caffeine on kids. However, we do know a lot about the effect that caffeine can have on adults, and many of these effects can likely be applied to children as well.

The effect of caffeine

According to Gemma Cosgriff, an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Bupa, caffeine can cause:
  • agitation
  • headaches
  • stomach upsets
  • sleep disturbances, including insomnia. 
If these are the effects on adults, just imagine what caffeine could being doing to your kids.
 
Coffee is a stimulant, and Gemma says that for children and adolescents this stimulation isn’t necessary and could also be detrimental. 
 
“At a time [when kids] are growing quite rapidly and still in that stage of brain development, [they’re finding their] calcium balance, and also getting sleep habits in place. If we throw caffeine into the mix it can potentially cause more negative health outcomes than what we might see in adults.”

Where is caffeine hiding?

While most parents are savvy to the most common sources of caffeine, such as coffee, tea and cola, Gemma advises that there are other sources to watch out for such as:

Soft drinks

“Being aware of soft drinks is important – it’s not only the cola-based soft drinks that have caffeine in them. We always recommend avoiding soft drinks, particularly for kids and teenagers, as they’re high in sugar, providing a lot of kilojoules with few nutrients. 
child with coffee cup

Energy drinks

The increasing popularity of energy drinks is a particularly worrying source of caffeine for kids and adolescents. As with soft drinks, not only are they often full of sugar, Gemma also warns that “studies have suggested that caffeine intoxication, which can come from these energy drinks, can lead to heart palpitations, hypertension, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, psychosis and, in rare cases, death.”

The risk increases when these drinks are combined with physical activity.
 
“Encourage kids and adolescents to avoid energy drinks, particularly if they are exercising when their heart rate is already going up, because it could be quite dangerous,” Gemma says.

Chocolate 

Chocolate can also contain caffeine, although usually in lower amounts than these drinks. However, it’s still a food to limit for kids’ health due to the high sugar content and poor nutrient quality. 

Gemma says the advice on healthy drinks for kids is pretty clear.

“Our Australian dietary guidelines recommend that milk and water are the options for fluid intake.” Keeping soft drinks, energy drinks and caffeine off the menu means healthier kids, and will hopefully provide a stable dietary foundation for your child’s future.
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