Are Coffee and Caffeine Really Bad for Your Kids?

coffee break

We have all heard that coffee and caffeine are bad for kids, but do we really know if this is a fact, or rather a suggestion for parents?

Obviously, both have some side effects that might make kids harder to manage, but they are not exactly unsafe. Julie Simpson, a registered dietitian at Banner Children’s at Cardon Children’s Medical Center, shares answers some common questions on the subject.

Is coffee unhealthy?

Like anything, coffee can be unhealthy in large amounts. This is true with basically whatever you put in your body and is constant between adults and children. Julie says that, “In moderation, coffee can be safe for the general population.”

Unlike the old myth states, coffee will not stunt your growth. This is no more than an old wives’ tale.

Is caffeine fine?

Yes and no. Caffeine is the same as coffee in the sense that moderation is key.

It is important to note that in terms of what is healthy, there are no written standards for this in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the American Dietetic Association, or the Federal Drug Administration. However, there seem to be some adverse effects at a lower level when it comes to children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 should not exceed more than 100 mg/day of caffeine – the amount that is in an average cup of coffee (about 8 oz).

Too much caffeine can result in unpleasant side effects such as:

  • Jitteriness
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Dehydration
  • High blood pressure
  • Faster heart rate

How do soda and energy drinks compare?

Both soda and energy drinks are not something Julie recommends, especially for children. These drinks typically exceed the recommended amount of caffeine for adolescents, not to mention the sugar content.

Energy drinks and soda are full of sugar – and the sugar isn’t natural. In fact, Julie says, “An average can of soda has 40 grams of sugar, which is approximately 2 rolls of Starbursts.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking any of these sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with:

  • Weight gain/obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Non-alcoholic liver disease
  • Tooth decay and cavities
  • Gout (a type of arthritis)

It is better for your kids to get natural sugar from actual foods, as you also get vitamins, minerals and fiber – which our bodies need. Fruit is an excellent source of natural sugar. Instead of a soda or energy drink, a sweet and healthy alternative could be some strawberries, peaches or blueberries.

There is one beverage that you can never go wrong with – water! Hydrating and healthy. But of course, you don’t want your child to be left out when you hit the coffee shop drive-thru. Julie recommends getting them an unsweetened tea. This will eliminate any unnecessary added sugars or too much caffeine. She also suggests getting them the smallest size, so it doesn’t curb their appetite.

Check out more of our nutrition do’s and don’ts here.

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