Caffeine, caffeine everywhere
Thanks to the popularity of products like soda and energy drinks, children and teenagers may be consuming more caffeine than ever before.
According to a study done by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average adolescent caffeine intake is 60 to 70 milligrams a day, and can range all the way up to 800 mg a day.
Jan Rary, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Marietta Memorial Hospital isn’t sure if there is a truly safe amount of caffeine for children.
“I believe it should be consumed very moderately if ever,” said Rary. “It provides no nutritional benefit and can affect children’s health.”
The healthy range for adults is up to 200 or 300 mg a day, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
Energy drinks have especially high sugar and caffeine levels.
“There has been documentation showing high levels of caffeine puts stress on the heart,” Rary said. “To much caffeine can also affect how much sleep a child gets which impacts other facets of their life.”
Too much caffeine can lead to symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, concentrating, increased heart rate and headaches, according to kidshealth.org.
For Matt and Molly Huffman of Marietta, limiting the caffeine intake of their three daughters is important to them.
“My husband will drink the occasional soda, but the girls and I don’t drink any soda or tea with caffeine in it,” Huffman said. “The only caffeine the girls receive with any frequency at all is chocolate and that isn’t a very substantial amount.”
The Huffmans always check the labels when shopping for food or drink for their family.
“Our oldest daughter has a severe peanut allergy, so we are just in the habit of monitoring what is in a product,” Molly Huffman said.
Checking labels is one of the best ways to monitor how much caffeine children will be ingesting, but Rary cautions parents not to rely on labels.
“Unfortunately not all products are required to list the amount of caffeine in each drink,” she said. “Stricter label requirements for energy drinks and other products containing caffeine would be nice.”
Currently her girls would rather have a glass of water or milk but Huffman admits that she is concerned that may change as they grow older.
“Addie is 10, Tess is 7 and Celia is 5 so I can still pretty much monitor what they are having,” she said. “As they get closer to teenagers though I’ll worry more about peer pressure and them having more access to products containing caffeine.”
Energy drinks have become extremely popular with teenagers in recent years and have sparked controversy about the high amounts of caffeine in these products.
“Most kids around my age drink pop or energy drinks on a regular basis,” said Adam Gearhart, 17, of Marietta. “It’s kind of a social bandwagon thing. All the marketing makes them really appealing to kids.”
A number of new products infused with caffeine are being developed and marketed toward younger generations, and caffeine is becoming more prevalent in some unexpected places.
The makers of Jolt, a popular energy drink, now also make caffeinated gum and breath mints.
Other products such as sunflower seeds, coffee flavored ice creams and even beef jerky are being infused with caffeine. Perky Jerky has 75 mg of caffeine per serving according to Health magazine.
“There are a lot of workout supplements with caffeine available and I’ve heard of certain things like energy gum, but I’ve never really used them,” Gearhart said.
Gearhart is an athlete on the Marietta High School basketball team and has become very conscious about what he puts in his body.
“When I was younger I drank way more pop than I do now,” he said. “As I’ve aged I’ve tried to limit myself to just water or Gatorade so I can stay hydrated for basketball.”
Parents trying to protect children from the addictive and unhealthy caffeinated products should look to simple alternatives.
“Especially when it comes to finding a drink, encourage children to drink a glass of water or milk,” Rary said. “It’s not always about the taste. You should drink to stay healthy and hydrated.”