Child And Baby Safety: Caffeine And Children

Caffeine usage among young children is increasing, with soda replacing milk or water in many homes. Here is information and a few tips for cutting back.

In the 1960's, parents drank coffee and children drank milk or fruit drinks. Coffee was considered inappropriate for children, presumably because of the caffeine content. Over the past 40 years, however, parents and children alike have switched to soda drinking. One study found that 75% of teen boys consume at least 3 cans a day. Fast food restaurants are promoting super sized drinks of 32 ounces or more. Coffee is still popular, though. Espresso and cappuccino shops are becoming fashionable hangouts. Considering that coffee and most brands of soda contain caffeine, what effect might that have on children?

Caffeine is addictive when indulged in daily. It is a stimulant that speeds the heart rate and contributes to anxiety and sleeplessness. When caffeine users miss a daily dose, they can have a headache and feel sluggish until they get some. Quitting is a challenge because the groggy feeling can last for weeks.

Health experts have begun to question the wisdom of letting children drink sodas throughout the day. A steady stream of caffeine is unhealthy for adults, and would seem to be even more so for smaller people. One 12-ounce can for a 60-pound child is similar to 3 cans for a 180-pound adult. Most pediatricians recommend keeping caffeine levels in children less than 50 grams a day. Most colas contain about 40 grams, so one can per day should be a maximum. Unfortunately, caffeine can also be found is other foods, such as cappuccino flavored yogurt.

In the schools, more and more children are being diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, and other behavior or learning problems. ADD symptoms are similar to the behavior of a person who is "wired" on coffee. They are distractible, restless, and have the jitters. ADD symptoms are also similar to those of a person who isn't getting enough sleep. They have a hard time concentrating and get irritable. Could the trend toward more soda drinking for children be contributing to the rise in ADD and ADHD? Researchers are looking at this question right now.

It's well documented that caffeine causes sleeplessness. Yet many children and young teens consume sodas even into the evening. Some experts suggest that the night owl tendencies of teens are really a reflection of their caffeine habits. Too much caffeine will make a young person not want to go to bed. Then in the morning, they are groggy, and grab another soda to get going. One study of 200 junior high students found that the students who took in 63 mg. of caffeine or more every day slept fewer hours, were more tired during the day, and sometimes woke during the night.

It has been found that individuals vary widely in their sensitivity to caffeine, and it is believed that children break down caffeine more slowly than adults. For some people, caffeine is out of their system in four hours. For others, it can take up to twelve hours. For sensitive children, even a pop at noon could affect their sleep.

In addition to caffeine, sodas are either loaded with sugar or contain artificial sweeteners that have not been proven safe for use. A can of soda contains about 150 calories from sugar. This is enough to take the edge off a young person's appetite and keep them from eating good food. Soda drinking should be curtailed because it replaces nutritious food with empty calories.

Another health problem associated with soda drinking is osteoporosis. Phosphorous, which causes carbonation in drinks, binds with calcium in the diet and renders it useless. Soda often replaces milk in the diet anyway, so the child is getting less calcium than expected. Doctors are beginning to see more cases of osteoporosis among young people.

Many schools, in an effort to raise needed funds, have soda machines in the halls. While it may be a good way to help the budget, it is not a way to build healthy eating habits in the students. Some parents have spoken up. Pop machines have been replaced with juice, milk, and fruit dispensers. Sadly, the healthy foods don't sell as well, and the pop machines often reappear.

Here are some tips for reducing the quantity of caffeine in your child's diet. First, be aware that not just colas contain caffeine. Some orange sodas and root beers do as well. Be sure to read the label. Watch out for trendy new drinks that contain extra caffeine.

Save pop or fancy coffee for special occasions such as holidays and birthdays. An occasional soda won't hurt as much as a steady stream.

Consider using caffeine free sodas when those special occasions come along.

Make sure sodas are not replacing water and milk in your child's diet.

If you're tempted by a 48-ounce drink selling for $.79 at the local hamburger place, consider taking your own paper cups and dividing it up among the family. In other words, downsize your serving sizes.

Don't allow caffeine consumption after 4:00 p.m. Restrict it even longer if your child shows signs of insomnia.

Watch out for coffee flavored desserts or medicines that contain caffeine. Again, read the labels to be sure.

It is ultimately up to parents to educate children and teens about nutrition and caffeine usage. Talk with them about the false ideas portrayed in advertising. Soda drinking is presented as something that makes a person fit into a group or be good at sports. Nothing could be further from the truth. Then be a good example. To get our children off soda, we need to first take control of our own caffeine intake!

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