A study published yesterday in the Journal of Pediatrics said that as many as 75 percent of children are consuming caffeine daily. More specifically, it revealed that children between ages eight and 12 consume an average of 109 milligrams of caffeine a day – which is about the same as drinking three 12 ounce cans of caffeinated soda a day.
I spoke about caffeine with one of our own experts at Children’s, registered dietitian Rachel Barraco, a couple of weeks ago. A lot of attention was being given to the dangers of caffeine/alcohol mixture drinks, and I wanted to find out if caffeine was safe for kids even on its own.
Rachel’s answer: it’s safe but not recommended. There aren’t any official guidelines for caffeine intake in children, but she said a safe threshold would be “a little less than” the generally accepted standard for adults – which is about 200 to 400 milligrams a day.
So, by my math, the 109 milligram average cited in the study doesn’t seem to pose any major threat in terms of causing headaches, dehydration and increased heart rates, which are each risks linked to excessive amounts of caffeine intake. However, the caffeine-associated health risk that Rachel said concerned her the most was obesity.
“Most sodas and coffee drinks also have a lot of sugar in them,” she said. “So, in addition to the caffeine intake, they’re getting a lot of calories and fat, too, which can lead to weight gain and all of its complications.”
So, bottom line, caffeine can indeed lead to health problems, but only in excess.
“Caffeine is okay in moderation,” Rachel said. “I would advise parents to encourage more nutrative drinks like water and l0w-fat milk, but a soda here and there or a cup of coffee every now and again is fine.”