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“Little sips and tastes may seem harmless, but they can lead to bigger sips and tastes and be unhealthy and unsafe for young children.”

That’s a quote from Jill Castle’s article, Caffeine: A Growing Problem for Children from U.S. News & World Report. One small sip today can lead to later problems and addictions later. Jill gives strong evidence that caffeine tolerance is much lower in children than it is in adults, and yet, now more than ever it seems children as young as 2 years old are being exposed to it! As health and wellness is a lifetime continuum, read on to learn more about the dangers of caffeine for your children and ways you can proactively change their habits and lower their exposure.

“Most parents would never condone their child’s use of drugs or alcohol. Not knowingly, anyway. But the recent death of a South Carolina teen highlights a growing problem for children: the availability, accessibility and consumption of caffeine. Not only are kids and teens consuming record amounts of it, young children – including toddlers – are getting it, too.

According to a 2014 study in the journal Pediatrics, approximately 73 percent of children consume caffeine on a given day. Most of this caffeine comes from soda. In addition, coffee and coffee-based drinks are an increasingly prevalent source of caffeine in children’s diets. Energy drinks, caffeine pills and foods containing caffeine, such as candy bars, mints and gum, are also more available to kids than ever before.

Surprisingly, caffeine consumption isn’t limited to older kids and teens. A 2015 study of Boston toddlers aged 1 to 2 years published in the Journal of Human Lactation found surprising rates of coffee consumption by these youngsters. Among 1-year-olds, 2.5 percent were drinking coffee.

By the time children reached the age of 2, more than 15 percent were consuming coffee. Of these 2-year-olds, about 15 percent consumed as much as 4 ounces, or a half cup, of coffee each day. Babies and toddlers of Hispanic mothers were more likely to drink coffee than children of non-Hispanic mothers, according to the study’s findings.

Caffeine is an easily obtained, socially acceptable drug. The word “drug” may be strong, but when you look at the physical effects on children, it’s hard to call it anything else.

Although there are limited studies on the effects of caffeine in growing children, we know it is a stimulant affecting primarily the brain and other organs. Another 2014 study published in Pediatrics looked at the effects of caffeine intake on boys and girls ages 8 to 9 years and those ages 15 to 17 years. All children and teens in the study experienced changes in their blood pressure (caffeine increased it) and heart rates (caffeine slowed it down). The effects were the same in both boys and girls in the younger group, but stronger effects were seen in teen boys than in teen girls. With higher doses of caffeine, heart rates increased.

Caffeine consumption may cause other side effects including jitteriness, nervousness, upset stomach and problems sleeping and concentrating. More severe symptoms may occur with a higher intake of caffeine. The child who consumes too much may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, extreme restlessness, a flushed face, frequent urination, “scatterbrain” thoughts and actions, a high heart rate and an irregular heartbeat. An overdose of caffeine can lead to seizures and cardiac arrest.

Major health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that children under the age of 12 years should not eat or drink any caffeine-containing foods or drinks.

For children older than 12 years, caffeine intake should fall in the range of no more than 85 to 100 milligrams per day. This is equivalent to an 8-ounce cup of home brewed coffee like Maxwell House. Popular coffee shop versions may exceed this amount of caffeine. (In comparison, a dose of 400 to 500 mg per day, or four or five cups of coffee per day, is tolerable for many adults, according to the Poison Control Center.)

Caffeine toxicity may be lethal. Death, although rare, may occur in adults who ingest more than 10 grams of caffeine, according to a 2010 article in Journal of Food Science. We don’t really know the threshold of toxicity for children, nor do we fully understand the effects of caffeine on the developing brain. Each child (and adult) is different and the threshold for toxicity may vary among individuals.

Any food containing caffeine can be dangerous for a child, as the total intake is the main concern. Caffeine is found in an ever-growing variety of food and beverages. Traditional sources, such as soda, coffee, coffee-based drinks and tea continue to be prevalent. However, other sources of caffeine are emerging: chocolate, ice cream, jelly beans, lollipops, beef jerky, marshmallows, gummy bears, energy drinks and even caffeine pills.

You can even find caffeinated lip balm and caffeinated water.

Energy drinks are particularly concerning for kids and teens as they are aggressively marketed to our youth. Up to 50 percent of teens consume energy drinks, according to a 2011 article in Pediatrics. A 2013 report in the journal Clinical Toxicology assessed calls to the U.S. National Poison Data System from 2010 to 2011 and found that of the reported cases of non-alcoholic energy drink ingestion, more than 50 percent of them occurred in children under age 6.

Energy drinks may have up to 250 mg caffeine per serving; and some of them are packaged with more than one serving in a container, resulting in larger doses of caffeine when the entire package is consumed.

Caffeine pills and powders are a relatively new form of caffeine used to boost energy, particularly among young athletes. Typically, these contain very concentrated doses of caffeine and can be quite dangerous (1 teaspoon has been reported to contain up to 1,600 mg caffeine).

While caffeine can be found in the usual food sources, it is also showing up in new sources and with increasing accessibility. As such, caffeine is naturally more available to children. Parents should be aware of these sources and set parameters around caffeine consumption to keep kids safe.

Do not offer toddlers any caffeine-containing products and practice saying no to children under the age of 12. Little sips and tastes may seem harmless, but they can lead to bigger sips and tastes and be unhealthy and unsafe for young children.

For older kids who may be independently choosing caffeine sources, parents need to be proactive with education and guidance. Teach children and teens about the ill effects of caffeine and where it can be found in food and beverages. Last, discourage the use of energy drinks and caffeine pills, particularly for those kids who may get exposed to these sources through sports and other activities.”

Caffeine is sneaking into our homes and our children’s bodies. Kids have a natural energy and vitality that should not be damaged or injured in any way. Let us know what you think about this problem and ways that you have learned to tackle the situation and protect yourself and your kids.

Check out the link for the original article and more resources on health!