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Caffeine May Be OK for Adults, Negatively Affects Children


Drinking a cup of coffee or tea each day is not likely to cause health problems, and in fact, some studies show that the beverages might have some benefit – for adults. Caffeine intake should be limited in children, as evidenced by a recent study published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Caffeine Impacts Sleep But Not Bedwetting

Dr. William Warzak and colleagues from the University of Nebraska Medical Center conducted a survey of the parents of over 200 children aged 5 to 12 years old during their routine visits at a pediatric clinic. The parents were asked about the types and amounts of snacks and beverages their child consumed on a regular basis.

The researchers found that 75% of children between the ages of 8 to 12 surveyed consumed caffeine on a daily basis, an average of 109 milligrams per day, or the equivalent of almost three 12-ounce cans of soda. Children between the ages of 5 to 7 consumed about half that – 52 milligrams per day. Even children under the age of five were consuming the equivalent of a can of soda each day.

The average intake was two or three times higher than the 22- to 23-mg daily average reported nearly a decade ago, they noted.

Read: Energy Drink Risks May Outweigh Benefits

Most of the children’s caffeine intake came from soft drinks but other foods, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate expose kids to the ingredient. Even some medications contain caffeine.

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While data previously has been limited on the effects of caffeine intake in children, in adults, excess consumption can lead to sleep disturbances, nervousness and anxiety, headaches, fast or irregular heartbeat, and gastrointestinal problems such as nausea.

The authors of the study noted that the children who consumed the most caffeine slept the least. Sleep deprivation can affect school performance and daily functioning.

On the positive side, while caffeine is considered a diuretic, intake was not associated with bedwetting in children who consumed the ingredient. The likely reason is that caffeine causes a child to sleep less deeply, thus they wake up to go to the bathroom.

“Parents should be aware of the potentially negative influence of caffeine on a child’s sleep quality and daily functioning,” Dr. Warzak concludes. The authors suggest that primary care pediatricians may be able to help by screening patients for caffeine consumption and educating parents about the potentially harmful effects of caffeine.

Read: Caffeine During Pregnancy Linked to Fetal Growth Restriction

So what is the appropriate amount of caffeine for a child to consume? Dr. Warzak says “I don’t think we know the answer to that question.” The FDA has not established a recommended amount of caffeine for children. A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that kids who consume 28 milligrams per day were most likely to be hyperactive enough to meet the criteria for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Avram Traum MD, a pediatric nephrologist at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston said, “There is no reason that school-aged children need caffeine. Period.”

Source Reference: “Caffeine Consumption in Young Children” by William J Warzak, PhD, Shelby Evans, PhD, Margaret T Floress, PhD, Amy C Gross, PhD, and Sharon Stoolman, MD, The Journal of Pediatrics, DOI 10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.11.022, published by Elsevier.