Caffeine and Child Health
The consumption of energy drinks, caffeinated soft drinks and the “inclusion” of infants and young kids in having “cups of tea” is a trend consistently rising. We love our "cups of tea" but are just aware that we need the non-caffeinated type! Which, very so innocently, many do not.
There is currently no recommendation for children to have caffeine, as it is a powerful stimulant in such small bodies that can have deleterious impacts on short- and long-term health. There are no positive short- or long-term effects of these compounds or products concerning developing brain functions, psycho-motor functions, or social development. Instead, there are many unpleasant side effects, and symptoms of regular or higher-dose energy drink consumption, especially at younger ages.
Caffeines impact on our bodies
Caffeine is an addictive stimulant that impacts our heart, lungs, kidneys, and central nervous system. It can increase our blood pressure and provides a feeling of increased energy. Caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours, which means that 6 hours after you have consumed it, you have only metabolized or seen half of its effects reduce. Caffeine still working in the body 6 hours after you have consumed it, tells you how powerful it is. Some adults are more sensitive to caffeine than others and cannot sleep with it in their system. But no matter your sensitivity, it still circulates in your system.
For adults, caffeine has been recognized as helpful for alertness and is related to some reductions in other illnesses when used wisely, however we also know that caffeine in excess can be harmful including insomnia, gastrointestinal upsets, infertility, osteoporosis, and heart burn to name just a few.
Drinks containing caffeine.
Please see our table below for caffeine amounts in the most common drinks.
Tea has caffeine
There is a misconception that tea contains no caffeine, whereas it most certainly does – black tea more obviously but even green tea’s as you can see from our table below. If you want to have a cup of tea with your child, there are plenty of caffeine-free options. A cup of hot water, honey and milk is suffice for the experience of sharing some time together.
Cola and energy drinks
The sugar content of any soft drink is unhelpful, let alone combining it with an additional addictive stimulant such as caffeine. Even the “fake sugars” zero sugar, versions of these drinks still contain the caffeine and still provide your kids with extreme taste thresholds for sweetness. For adolescents, the side effects are insomnia, depressed mood and stress (1). Caffeine intoxication is also on the rise.
Children and stimulants
For growing unmatured bodies, becoming dependent on stimulants at such young ages is a slippery slope. Beginning dependencies on external stimulants so early can only mean a child will develop into adolescents seeking higher levels of stimulants much earlier. For example, studies have shown that kids who consume soft drinks move onto energy drinks and then are more likely to combine energy drinks with alcohol and then move onto other illegal stimulants earlier in life. It is a spiral that is predictable when you really think about it. (2,3)
Outside of the obvious impacts of dependency and what introducing unnecessary stimulants to a child can do to hormones and the bodies natural regulation, caffeine can also have an impact on the following things for children:
- Sleep Disruption: Caffeine can interfere with children's sleep patterns. It can make it more difficult for them to fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to insufficient sleep duration and quality. Sleep deprivation in children can have negative effects on their cognitive function, behavior, and overall well-being.
- Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and can lead to an increased heart rate and blood pressure. In children, whose cardiovascular systems are still developing, excessive caffeine consumption can potentially have more significant impacts and may cause heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat.
- Nutrition and Calcium Absorption: Caffeinated beverages, such as cola or energy drinks, often replace healthier options like water or milk. This can lead to decreased intake of essential nutrients, such as calcium, which is important for bone health. Excessive caffeine intake can interfere with calcium absorption and contribute to lower bone mineral density, potentially increasing the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
- Behavioral Effects: Caffeine is a stimulant that can affect children's behavior and moods. It can cause restlessness, nervousness, anxiety, and irritability. Some children may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, and higher consumption can exacerbate these symptoms.
- Interference with Medications or Health Conditions: Caffeine can interact with certain medications or health conditions. It's important for parents and caregivers to consult with healthcare professionals to understand any potential interactions and to ensure that caffeine consumption is safe for children with specific health concerns or medication regimens.
|Caffeine in mg
|Expresso (50ml cup)
|Energy Drink (250ml can)
|Instant Coffee (1tsp)
|Dark chocolate (50g bar)
|Black tea (250ml cup)
|Green tea (250ml cup)
|Cola (375ml can)
|Milk chocolate (50g bar)
Obviously you are not going to deny your child chocolate, but its good to be aware it does contain caffeine and as we should anyway, ensure we monitor its consumption in volume and timing. Before bedtime chocolate for example, which is also high in sugar, is unhelpful to winding down for a good night's sleep.
Given the realistic impacts of caffeine on our childs development, it is advisable to avoid caffeine consumption in children. If you are battling with your child and negotiating an age that will work, try as best you can to get past 16years of age. If your child is struggling for sleep and to get up and go in the morning, they need more quality sleep and the introduction of stimulants is not going to help solve that problem. They are not adult's; adult solutions do not work for kids. Stay strong!
- Energy Drinks and Their Adverse Health Effects: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Demographic and behavioural correlates of energy drink consumption - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Psychological and socio-educational correlates of energy drink consumption in children and adolescents: a systematic review - PubMed (nih.gov)