Three out of four American children and adolescents consume caffeine every day, in the form of soda, coffee and tea. A new study shows soft drink consumption by kids is down, but raises concerns about the amount of caffeine consumed from energy drinks and coffee.
The amount of caffeine children consume has largely remained the same for the past decade, according to a study published this week in the journal Pediatrics. The research, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that more children are getting more of their caffeine from energy drinks and coffee.
The researchers found that soft drinks still account for the majority of caffeine intake, but the level of contribution declined from 62 to 38 percent, from 1999 to 2010. This reflects the push to reduce sugary soft drinks children were consuming because of obesity concerns. They did not switch to water or juice. Instead, coffee is now the source of 24 percent of caffeine intake among children; it was only 10 percent the previous decade. Energy drinks did not exist during the earlier study conducted in 1999 and 2000, but they provide nearly six percent of the caffeine children consume 10 years later. Tea, the remaining source of caffeine, shows a small increase in consumption.
The other significant trend the researchers found was that overall caffeine intake by children ages two to 11 dropped to the equivalent of half a can of soda each day. This contrasts with children ages 12 through 16 who consume twice that amount. By the late teens and college years, daily caffeine consumption grows to the equivalent of three to four cans of soda or a cup of coffee.
This study raises concerns at a time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also investigating the safety of caffeine in foods and drinks for kids. Caffeine is a natural stimulant in coffee beans and tea leaves, but is added to other sources. In an announcement about its investigation, the FDA noted that caffeine in the diet is not limited to beverages. Caffeine is also an ingredient in foods, gum, jellybeans and marshmallows.
The question of whether caffeine is safe for kids is not addressed in this particular study. The FDA considers caffeine in moderation to be safe for adults. The administration has indicated that four to five cups of coffee per day is not considered dangerous for adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine consumption for children and adolescents, but the FDA has not published guidance on safe levels of consumption of caffeine for juveniles.
Previous studies have shown the negative effects of caffeine consumption. Many effects in children have the same effects as in adults. These effects include jitteriness, headaches and trouble sleeping.
The decline in soda consumption is good news. But the switch from soft drinks to coffee and energy drinks as caffeine sources raises concerns that beverages consumed by kids still offer little to no nutritional value. The study showed no indication that children are replacing caffeinated beverages with healthier ones, such as water.
By Dyanne Weiss