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Family and Consumer Sciences Education: Kids and Caffeine

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   Approximately 75 percent of children, adolescents and young adults in the United States consume caffeine, a compound that stimulates the central nervous system. In small doses, caffeine may help people feel more alert, awake or energetic. But what if you have more than just a little? In large doses, caffeine may cause irritability, impaired calcium metabolism, anxiety, rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure and sleep problems. In fact, one study found that kids who consumed the most caffeine slept the fewest hours.

Since caffeine is in common beverages including colas and teas, parents and others may unknowingly offer excessive amounts of caffeine to children. Teens may deliberately consume large amounts.

   Some teens find that caffeine helps them perform better in school and on tests. If your teen carries a heavy academic load, caffeine-containing foods and beverages may be tempting to help improve concentration during school and then again at night to stay up late for studying. Unfortunately, this can create a cycle of being unable to sleep because of the effects of caffeine, consuming more caffeine to fight fatigue from lack of sleep and then having trouble falling asleep again.

   How much is too much? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not set guidelines for safe caffeine consumption for children. However, the “Healthy Beverage Recommendations,” which were developed by several leading health organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics, indicate that children who are five years old and younger should avoid caffeinated beverages.

   The AAP also discourages the use of caffeine and other stimulants by older children and adolescents. For adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day or the equivalent of 4 to 5 cups of coffee as safe, and this is considered to be the maximum amount that may be included in a healthy eating pattern, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

   Since coffee, tea, energy drinks, and soft drinks contribute more caffeine to the diet than foods and other beverages, limiting these beverages is a good place to start. Steer clear of foods with added caffeine. Children and adolescents should completely avoid these products.

   If it’s energy your kids are seeking, getting to bed earlier or taking a short nap is more productive than consuming caffeine that offers pep for a short time, but may interfere with sleep later that evening.

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