Kids Are Getting Amped on Caffeine, Even at Age 5

A commentary on kids' caffeine consumption.

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Most school-age children drink caffeinated drinks, and many of them are imbibing enough caffeine to give adults the jitters. And their sleep is suffering. That's the news from the Journal of Pediatrics, which surveyed parents on their children's caffeine habits.

It turns out that 5- to 7-year-olds on average drink 52 milligrams of caffeine daily, or the caffeine equivalent of one Coke. That may not sound too bad, but the 228 parents in the new study admitted their 8- to 12-year-olds drink the caffeine equivalent of almost three Cokes daily. And the more caffeine the kids took in, the less they slept.

It's hard to imagine parents thinking double lattes are a good choice for kids, but the fact is that 75 percent of the 228 parents surveyed by the researchers, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, said their kids down caffeinated drinks daily. Soft drinks are the biggest culprit; they're also a bad choice for kids because they're high in sugar, with zero nutritional value. Schools don't always help on this. A recent study found that 14 percent of public elementary school students and 38 percent of private elementary school students can buy sugar-sweetened beverages at school. And kids often don't realize that Gatorade and other sports drinks are just soft drinks in disguise.

Here are three ways that parents can cut back on children's caffeine consumption, and increase their odds of a good night's sleep:

  • Take soft drinks off the menu, at home and in restaurants. They're bad nutritional choices, and many contain caffeine.
  • Beware of hidden caffeine. Many orange sodas have caffeine, but you'd never guess it from the taste. Indeed, not all caffeinated drinks are brown. One can of Mountain Dew has 55 mg of caffeine, which beats the amount in a can of Coke or Pepsi.
  • Explain that energy drinks aren't the right kind of energy for kids. A 16-ounce Arizona Green Tea Energy has 200 mg of caffeine; that's four Cokes! Clearly this green tea is not a healthy choice.

The fact that so many high-caffeine drinks are also sugary makes them more attractive to children; think of it as training wheels for a caffeine addiction. That's not a lesson that grade-schoolers need to learn.