May 31, 2017, 11:06:49 AM CDT Apr 10, 2019, 4:11:32 PM CDT

Caffeine and kids: What to know to keep your child's heart healthy

As many as 75% of children are consuming caffeine daily. But what are the risks, and how much is too much for your child?

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Young boy sitting on an outdoor patio sipping a soft drink Young boy sitting on an outdoor patio sipping a soft drink

Caffeine is a part of many people's daily routine. Whether it be a cup of coffee or a can of soda, many adults turn to caffeinated beverages for a boost. But is this commonplace stimulant safe for children? The experts say perhaps with limited intake – but it is not recommended.

"Caffeine is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, but caffeine is not recommended for children," says Denon Stacy, a registered dietitian at Children's Health℠.

How much caffeine is safe for kids?

"The U.S. doesn't have official guidelines for caffeine intake in children, but one safe threshold is less than 2.5 mg caffeine/kilogram per day," advises Stacy.

Since the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not set guidelines for safe caffeine consumption for children, we can look to our neighbor in Canada. The Canadian government recommends the following daily caffeine limits for kids.

  • Ages 4 – 6 years: 45 mg, which is about the amount of caffeine in one, 12-ounce can of soda
  • Ages 7 – 9 years: 62 mg
  • Ages 10 – 12 years: 85 mg

However, one study showed that as many as 75% of children are consuming caffeine daily. More specifically, it revealed that children between ages 8 and 12 consume an average of 109 milligrams of caffeine a day – which is almost the same as drinking three 12-ounce cans of caffeinated soda each day.

Is caffeine bad for kids?

Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause high blood pressure and heart rate. Those are just two of the effects that caffeine can have on children. In addition, higher doses of caffeine can cause the following symptoms in kids:

  • Headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Nervousness
  • Upset or nauseous stomach
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping, especially when consumed after noon

Colin Kane, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at Children's Health and Director of Cardiology Outreach at UT Southwestern says that when it comes to caffeine and kids, less is better.

"In moderation, caffeine is not harmful," Dr. Kane notes, "but if you take an excessive amount and if you are prone to arrhythmias or abnormal heartbeats, then caffeine can be dangerous."

Be aware of calories in caffeinated drinks

Sodas, energy drinks and flavored coffee drinks contain added sugar which can lead to excessive weight gain. "These drinks have a lot of calories, which can lead to weight gain and all of the associated health consequences," explains Stacy.

Instead of caffeine-containing drinks, Stacy encourages parents to offer low-sugar beverages, like water and low-fat milk. "Our bodies need water to function properly," she says. "And dairy products are an excellent source of calcium and vitamins. These nutrients are especially important during childhood and adolescence when children experience rapid growth."

When it comes to caffeine and kids, the bottom line is that there is limited data for possible negative effects of caffeine on children. "Remember the recommendations for caffeine are limitations; we do not need caffeine," Stacy adds.

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