Is Caffeine Safe For Children?

Tea and coffee have been part of my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are of my grandparents letting me make tea on the samovar. And I grew up in Venezuela, where coffee is part of the fabric of life. But my parents frowned on us drinking tea or coffee, mostly because they had heard that it would stunt our growth and development. Now that I have a kid of my own who wants to have a sip of my morning coffee or have a can of coke at birthday parties, I decided to investigate whether caffeine is safe for children and their development. 

Statistics suggest that over 70% of children drink caffeine. Most of this is in the form of soda, but energy drink consumption is increasing too, particularly among teenagers. Considering these trends, it’s important for parents to know whether these caffeinated beverages can be harmful. 

What impact does caffeine have on children?

Much to my surprise, there’s very little research on the effect that caffeine may have on children’s development. I could find no references associating caffeine with stunted growth, for example. Some studies suggest that caffeine has the same temporary effects in children as it has in adults, including “nervousness, jitteriness, fidgetiness”, among other common symptoms. 

One study found that caffeine consumption in adolescents leads to later bedtimes and less deep sleep. Since most children and adolescents usually don’t get enough sleep anyway, a beverage that causes them to lose even more sleep due to jitteriness is not ideal. 

Most caffeinated drinks are high in sugar and very low in nutritional value. Consequently, overconsumption of caffeinated beverages can lead to obesity. Kids who drink too much caffeine can also experience nausea, headache, upset stomach, and racing heart beat. These responses seem to be greater in boys than girls.

How much caffeine is safe for children?

Caffeine is a drug and a stimulant. Just like with most other drugs, the recommended amount we take depends on our weight. Consequently, limits and recommendations for caffeine intake are based on a child’s weight. To put the information into perspective, I’ve created an infographic with the average amount of caffeine in common beverages. The data is derived from the table in this paper.

Click here to continue reading