Caffeine and Kids – What You Ought to Know

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With medical professionals and scientists recently taking an about turn on caffeine and proving that it’s health benefits far outweigh any negatives it may have, many parents are now asking if it is safe, or even beneficial, to allow their kids to ingest caffeine.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is still a resounding no.

Here’s why:

Caffeine Has a Detrimental Effect on Children’s Sleep Patterns

A study carried out by the American Academy of Paediatrics found that caffeine has a negative pharmacological effect on children. The study, carried out on 191 children over a two-week period found that those consuming caffeine displayed shorter night time sleeps, longer periods of wakefulness after the onset of sleep and, to counteract these effects, more day time sleeping periods.

Caffeine Consumption Can Affect Children’s Growth

As caffeine is a natural appetite suppressant, children who consume it may end up under nourished as their bodies request less food than is actually needed. This can result in a lack of essential vitamins and minerals which can affect how a child grows. A lack of food can also cause dizziness, moodiness and, in extreme cases, malnutrition.

Caffeine Can Increase Anxiety in Children

Although caffeine has been proven to reduce anxiety in adults, that is not the case with children. Their brains and hormone levels are very different to those of an adult. Stimulants such as caffeine give a boost to energy levels by affecting neurological processes, and while this replicates the feel good hormone in adults, thus reducing the levels of anxiety, in a child, this over-stimulation can actually cause them to feel more anxious. According to Dr. Marcie Schneider of the American Academy of Paediatrics, caffeine consumption in children can even encourage anxiety in a child who previously showed no symptoms of anxiety.

Caffeine Consumption Can Hinder Calcium Consumption

Although studies on adults have shown that there is no real link between caffeine consumption and bone density, Dr. Nicole Caldwell of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, states that this is not the case for children.

Calcium is an important mineral in healthy bone development, and giving a child anything that hinders calcium intake in their bodies can have a detrimental effect on their bones.

Caffeine Can Cause Dehydration in Children

Caffeine is a diuretic, which means, if consumed in large quantities, it can lead to dehydration. For most adults, the amount you would have to consume for this to take effect would be more than you could drink in a day. For children, however, a much smaller amount can lead to dehydration says Dr. Matthew Keefer, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles. This is especially dangerous if the child then drinks more caffeinated drinks when they become thirsty.

Mild dehydration can lead to headaches, constipation, and a lack of concentration, none of which are something you would want for your child.

A Point to Note:

As Ann Condon-Meyers, a pediatric dietician at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh reminds us, caffeine is a stimulant, therefore it’s a drug. While the effects of caffeine are less severe than those of an amphetamine, they are not worlds apart.

Adults use caffeine as a stimulant to keep them awake and to enhance their performance at sports. This isn’t something that we should be pushing onto our children. Caffeine is highly addictive and forming such a habit in a young child is not a good idea.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it’s fair to say that giving a child caffeine isn’t the best idea – especially in the form of energy drinks which are also laden with sugar.

The best solution to get your daily fix is to invest in an at-home coffee machine so you don’t have to take your children to your local coffee shop.

If you really want a coffee when you’re out and about, there’s always the babycino, which is a harmless drink that consists of warmed, frothed milk, with a few chocolate sprinkles, served in a coffee cup. While some people who argue this is forming a coffee drinking habit, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – remember, for adults, caffeine actually has many benefits!