While sipping on a coffee-laced Frappuccino, I'm reading about a current study on caffeine and kids. It made me think about my own dependence on caffeine and when it started. For as long as I can remember, my parents would drink several cups of coffee in the morning before going to work, and even as late as right before they retired for the night. I suspect my mother had a cup while I was busy being born.
I can't remember exactly when I joined the family coffee drinking ritual, but I know I was pretty young. Fall and winter demanded hot steaming cups of coffee and iced coffee helped cool the torturous Texas summers. Spring was a combination of both. Sometimes I think that by now, there's probably coffee bean residue percolating in my blood stream.
I kind of wish that I'd never started drinking coffee, because it's the caffeine I really crave- not necessarily the taste of the brew. When I've tried to quit, my body and mind rebels with headaches and bad attitudes. Which brings me back to the study on kids and caffeine.
Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that children and teens are now getting less caffeine from soda, but more from caffeine-heavy energy drinks and coffee.
"You might expect that caffeine intake decreased, since so much of the caffeine kids drink comes from soda," said the study's lead author, Amy Branum, a statistician at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "But what we saw is that these decreases in soda were offset by increases in coffee and energy drinks."
Not too long ago, energy drinks were just a fad, something that was more likely to give you the shakes than boost your energy level. That was before they were tweaked and bottled or canned in fruity flavors, sugary beverages and clever advertising. Once kids (and adults) got a taste of the "new and improved" tasty stimulates, the caffeinated beverages began to become a part of every day life – at least Monday through Friday when school and work beckoned.
"In a very short time, they have gone from basically contributing nothing to 6 percent of total caffeine intake," Branum said.
"Energy drinks have more caffeine than soda,. That's their claim to fame," she said. "That's what they're marketed for."
So, what effect does excessive caffeine intake have on our kids? Scientists are not sure yet. There are concerns and a lot of questions about the possible adverse consequences for kids who are still developing. Caffeine addiction, obesity from sugar heavy beverages, high blood pressure, rapid heart beats and anxiety are some of the side –effects researchers are exploring.
Using data from the 1999 to 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Branum's team estimated that 73 percent of American children consume some level of caffeine each day.
Although much of their caffeine still comes from soda, the proportion has decreased from 62 percent to 38 percent. At the same time, the amount of caffeine kids get from coffee rose from 10 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2010, the researchers found.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that energy drinks are never appropriate for children or adolescents and in general, caffeine-containing beverages, including soda, should be avoided. The AAP suggests that children should drink water or moderate amounts of juice instead.
The genie is probably out of the preverbal bottle as far as some adolescents and college-aged kids are concerned. Although, if they are more aware of the possible health risks associated with excessive caffeinated beverages, they may decide to look at healthier energy producing sources such as exercise, meditation and more rest.
Where parents can have the most influence is with their younger children. Refraining from purchasing caffeinated products (there's even "energy" gum) and keeping them out of the home is a good first step.
And by all means, avoid introducing your kids to coffee at a young age. It might seem kind of cute, but twenty years down the road, they may wish you hadn't slid that first cup of java their way.
The report was published in the February edition of the online journal Pediatrics.
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