5 Experts Answer: Is Caffeine Bad for Kids?
Credit: morguefile.com

Each week, MyHealthNewsDaily asks the experts to answer questions about your health. This week, we asked doctors: Does caffeine harm kids?

Roberta Anding, Registered Dietitian, director of sports nutrition at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston and member of the Baylor College of Medicine Faculty:

Yes. There was actually a position paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics published in May this year. There are all these new energy drinks, and the position paper said these kinds of products and high caffeine loads are not appropriate for children.

A study that came out in December 2010 in the journal Pediatrics found that 75 percent of children consume caffeine on a daily basis, and the more caffeine children consumed, the less they slept. Caffeine impacts slept, but this study showed that the old wives tale that it causes bedwetting wasn't substantiated.

There's also some evidence to suggest that if you have a child who already has an anxiety disorder, the effects of caffeine make it worse.

The other concern that I see is how parents equate sports drinks and energy drinks as the same thing. Often time the energy drinks often have significantly higher amounts of caffeine than soda.

**

Dr. Marcie Schneider, adolescent medicine physician and former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on nutrition:

It is bad.

Caffeine is absorbed in every body tissue. It increases your heart rate and it increases your blood pressure. Caffeine changes your body temperature and your gastric juices. It changes how attentive you are, and can really cause trouble in terms of sleep.

Then there's moods. For some people, caffeine enhances their moods. For others it makes it worse. For kids who have some anxiety, and it may even be under control in normal conditions, caffeine can really increase anxiety.

Caffeine is a stimulant, and therefore it may change their appetite. Adolescents gain half of their adult weight in their teenage years. If caffeine curbs their appetite in some way it could affect their growth. 

A lot of the issue for kids is all the energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster. These drinks are full of other components. There's guarana, which is a plant extract and each gram of guarana is equal to 40 milligrams of caffeine as a stimulant. There's another protein called taurine, which potentiates the effect of caffeine.

**

 Dr. Nicole Caldwell, assistant professor of pediatrics, Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio

It's not really good for them. As far as the FDA goes, there are no current guidelines for caffeine consumption.

But the Canadian government has some guidelines. For children aged 4-6 years, the maximum recommended intake is 45 milligrams a day — about as much caffeine as found in a 12-ounce Diet Coke.

Caffeine affects the central nervous system as a stimulant. The brains of a child tend to be a little bit more sensitive to caffeine's effects than the brains of adults. Caffeine can cause them to be hyperactive, which is obvious. But it also can make them nervous, anxious, worsen stomach problems and create sleep problems.

Also if they have an undiagnosed arrhythmia, an irregular or abnormal heartbeat, caffeine increases excitability within the heart, which can exacerbate the arrhythmia.

Caffeine also constricts blood vessels. It takes 4 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight to increase blood pressure.

The evidence doesn't show that caffeine stunts growth. But if kids are drinking soda, even caffeinated tea throughout the day, they may not be taking in the amount of calcium they need.

Also, if your child is drinking a can of caffeinated soda, they are also taking in a lot of sugar, which has the second effect of tooth decay, and the growing issue of childhood obesity.

***

Ann Condon-Meyers, a registered dietitian at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

Yes. It's a stimulant, so it's a drug.

The amount a child weighs changes the dose-response. In other words, a 60-pound child could handle 60 milligrams of caffeine in 24 hours. The problem with that is one Mountain Dew has 50 milligrams, and so does 8 ounces of most energy drinks.

Side effects include increased heart rate, increased blood pressure increased anxiety and decreased ability to sleep. They will suffer withdrawal effects just like adults if they don't have it, at the very least a headache.

To exacerbate the problem of these caffeinated drinks is the fact that many of them are in high in sugar. That's poor nutrition. When you have a kid who is drinking more than one sugary drink a day, it's a set-up for obesity.

The earlier your obesity begins in childhood, the more likely it is to follow you in adulthood. And drinking sugary caffeinated drinks is habit forming. I really fault the beverage industry for marketing to children. I think they're very clever to put caffeine in a drink because it's habit forming and it's a drug.

***

Dr. Matthew Keefer, General Pediatrician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles

I would say at best it's no harm, at worse, it can cause a lot of side effects that aren't necessary. Certainly, young children don't need any caffeine at all. If an older child has a cup of coffee or a soda every once and a while it's not a big deal.

But when it comes to energy drinks, there's no role for them in pediatrics. If you're using these for working out or to enhance athletic promise, it's not a drug for that.

What happens is some kids use them in replacement of good hydration, which is worse. Caffeine can cause you to lose more water.

We do use caffeine in young infants if they're having trouble remembering to breathe. Occasionally it's used for some people with migraine headaches, but beyond that, there's no medical use really.

There's a reason why caffeine in the form of coffee is one of the highly subsidized corporate perks. It keeps people alert and working. But it's a problem if you're talking about teenagers who need a lot of sleep. They probably need a good 8 plus or 10 hours a night, and teenagers as whole tend to get a lot less sleep. Many use caffeine to stay awake, and using a drug to make up for a deficit and it isn't good.