Caffeinated Kids: A Nutrition Deconstruction

caffeine products smallerUpdate Sept. 29, 2016 Today is National Coffee Day!

While these Harvard studies for ADULTS caffeine intake bring us a few ‘ahhh’ morning moments, this AAP study with KIDS could have parents steaming, as it points to the dangers of children’s consumption (especially energy drinks) and notes consumption by teens age 17, 18 has doubled over the last decade. 

With Starbucks toting tweens and amped up candy aisle and energy drink consumption, it’s important to remember these are developing adolescent bodies, not fully grown adults, as media has reported the intake and safety issues of kids drinking more coffee now, as well as the adverse effects of anxiety and stress levels linked to caffeinated kids.

How much is too much? Kids’ blood pressure and heart rates are far more sensitive to stimulus in products like these, so read the labels, heed the warnings, and keep a keen eye on what’s being marketed to kids with ‘coolness cache’ especially those gawdawful energy drinks. 

preschooler-coffee.jpgUpdate Dec. 7, 2011 Nice capsulized fact sheet for teens from Center for Young Women’s Health, via CMCH Boston. Now read on for more…

Mar. 3, 2008 No surprise that I’m a full disclosure Accountability Central kind of gal when it comes to label lingo.From caffeine to junk food I’m a huge supporter of labeling to SEE what we’re putting into our bodies, since more and more, caffeine is seeping into doses of charged up candy, energy drinks, gum, yogurt, even oatmeal.

For context, I’ll first send you to this excellent article called “Generation Wired” by my pal Helen Cordes, Editor in Chief of (fabulous publication; highly recommend)…then reveal she wrote about the caffeine to kids trend for MetroActive a decade ago!

Yep. That’s right, kids have been ‘über-charged’ since then, but as you can see in this late ’90s newsy article it’s been ramping up for a looooong while. Here’s an ABC news article on caffeine labeling (coming at month’s end) in New York.

Shaping Youth has been trying to stay on top of what’s actually IN those yummy cuppas that kids are snarfing like milkshakes. (see “how to survive in latte land” (4 pg. pdf article); it’s hard to keep up with the ‘lift and reveal’ tactics when countless products premiere in constant churn!

Pepsi recently received CSPI kudos for leading the way on voluntary labeling with a call for Coke and others to follow suit…Yet here I am as a mom with vague recollection, thinking, “Didn’t we already tackle this long ago? Hasn’t this been handled yet?” Um…nope, guess not.

In this March edition of CSPI’s Nutrition Action health letter, you can read all about the pros and cons of caffeine, and get “up to speed” with vital ‘aha’ moments gleaned from new research that combines prior reports into mega-merged offerings.

This works well for us, since we’ve tapped into the KIDS equation via our own Shaping Youth Nutrition Correspondent Rebecca Scritchfield to answer the ‘how much is too much’ question.

For those inspired by pockets of progress, look to Sugar Shock’s blog reporting on NYC menu labels listing calories as of 3-31-08 to try to help curb obesity too. Ah, now if we could get that ‘lift and reveal’ for diabetes, applied to caffeine and other additives making their way into kids’ food supply…not just in coffee, but items like yogurt, sweetened, fortified water, and more.

Here’s Shaping Youth’s health blogger Rebecca Scritchfield from Balanced Health & Nutrition, with her deconstruction on kids’ dietary intake of caffeine.

r_stritchfield_120.png Caffeinated Kids: A Deconstruction
By Rebecca Scritchfield, Nutrition Correspondent for Shaping Youth

Candy sales are crashing and manufacturers have just the thing to give confections a “pick me up” — caffeine. It’s not surprising considering the data.

Sales of sugar confectionary dropped by 4% from 2001 to 2006, while energy-drink sales rose by more than 400% to $3.23 billion in the period, according to market researcher Mintel.

So, why not add caffeine to candy and see if it can sell like energy drinks? Of course, that’s what manufacturers will try. It’s their job to make money. But it’s parents’ job to know the pros and cons of caffeine and make a decision on what they will allow their kids to have. I hope this blog post helps you in that endeavor.

First, get the facts:

The recommended minimum amount of caffeine kids should consume per day is ZERO.

That’s because caffeine is not a nutrient, it’s a compound that stimulates the central nervous system when ingested. Caffeine is classified as a psychoactive drug, but it is not a controlled substance so it is legal.

In a spectrum of drugs, caffeine’s effects are more mild than amphetamines, cocaine and heroin, but it is manipulating the same channels, and that is one of the things that gives caffeine its addictive qualities. Other forms of caffeine include guaranine, mateine or theine.

Caffeine is widespread in the food supply since it is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and colas. It is also added artificially to a variety of foods and beverages, much like these new caffeinated candies.

In small amounts, caffeine has beneficial effects of improving alertness and decreasing fatigue. But there are undesirable effects of consuming too much, including insomnia, restlessness, irritability, nervousness, headaches, hand tremors, extra heartbeats and an inability to concentrate.

Compared to the general adult population, children are at increased risk for possible behavioral effects from caffeine.

Children are smaller and a little caffeine goes a long way.

So how much is too much?

Unfortunately, it depends on the person because everyone handles caffeine differently. But there are some guidelines:

For children age 12 and under, a maximum daily caffeine intake of no more than 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight is recommended.

Here are the numbers based on weight averages:

* 45 mg for children aged 4 – 6;
* 62.5 mg for children aged 7 – 9; and
* 85 mg for children aged 10 – 12

Consuming candy and cola on a regular basis can push kids over these limits. And what about these caffeinated chocolates? Well, the news is not good.

For example, one Snickers Charged bar (65 mg) and a 20 oz Mountain Dew (90 mg) gives 155 mg caffeine. That’s 187% of the recommended limit of caffeine for a 10-12 year old! Replace the Dew with a Coke and the number drops only slightly to about 120 mg of caffeine.

The caffeine numbers can add up quickly and your child could experience negative effects like restlessness and insomnia.

From a nutrition standpoint, the candy and soda offers very little of value to the diet anyway, just some empty calories. These calories can contribute to weight gain or they can replace the calories that should come from more nutritious foods. In addition, caffeine can cause the body to lose calcium — just what your growing children don’t need.

For every 150mg of caffeine, the body loses 5mg calcium. My advice to parents is to do what you always do – monitor and control, especially if you suspect caffeine may be contributing to sleep or behavioral problems in your kids.

Don’t let your kids get fooled by the sleek marketing of the buzz-inducing, caffeine-spiked candy. Chocolate already has enough on it’s own. Allow a small amount of chocolate (one ounce) or caffeine-free regular or diet soda (6-8 ounces) as an occasional treat. Trail mix, chocolate chip granola bars or chocolate flavored graham crackers are healthier alternatives to candy bars.

Chocolate milk is a two-for…Have 1% chocolate milk available for a treat. Your child will get a delicious and nutritious taste of chocolate and the added calcium to make up for any losses.

Finally, here’s a CSPI list (Center for Science in the Public Interest) of common foods with caffeine and the amount per serving to give you an overview…

–Rebecca Scritchfield for Shaping Youth

For more insights from Rebecca, visit Balanced Health & Nutrition

About Rebecca: Shaping Youth is proud to have Rebecca as part of our stable of guest editorial bloggers in core areas of expertise we deem integral to children’s health.

Rebecca graduated with degrees in chemisty and nutrition with honors and distinction, and has additional academic training in communications and information technology. She’s certified by the American College of Sports Medicine, pursuing a graduate degree in communications at Johns Hopkins University, with an emphasis of coursework in digital technologies and health communication, and is also a guest blogger for the diet and nutrition section of Health Commentary, led by family physician Mike Magee, MD.

Last year, Rebecca was awarded the Irene Jones Memorial Scholarship by the American Dietetic Association Foundation, and is completing her dietetic rotations with Sodexho, working with clients such as National Geographic Society, The World Bank, Brainfood, St. Alban’s School, and Inova Fairfax Hospital.

You’ll find plenty more of Rebecca’s input in Shaping Youth’s category of ‘childhood obesity’ and we look forward to keeping her as an active, vital part of our growing group of advisors! Thanks, Rebecca!

Is there a subject you’d like to query us about to have Rebecca tackle? Surf her blog to see if it’s already handled, then leave a comment here about any KIDS nutrition and dietary concerns impacted by today’s media/marketing mix.

Also, I’ll be speaking at a 5/1 Preteen Alliance event (Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health and Kaiser Permanente are teaming up) so send me any of your core concerns and questions, as there will be an adolescent psychiatrist/specialist dealing with kids’ nutrition/additives and mental/physical motivators re: counter-acting consumption of less healthy kids’ cuisine.

Would love to hear from all parts of the world…whether it’s about kids’ intake of caffeine, energy drinks, sports supplements, eating cues, junk food, body image, organics, vegetarianism, ‘eating green’, etc. Now’s the time to ask away so I can start digging up popular topics to float for further research! —Appreciatively, Amy

Related Caffeine Articles by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

Caffeine Candy: “Buzz Bites, Snickers Charged, Crackheads”

Turning Boys Into “Monsters”: Energy Drink Leaves a Foul Taste (Again!)

More Shock Schlock: Industry Tactics Clueless About Blowback

Corporate Blunders Are A Dime (Bag) A Dozen…

Maxed Out on Energy Drinks? Diet Pepsi Max Says Wake Up People!

Sugary Sodas Falter, Now Caffeine & Sodium Rule

Peer Driven Junk Food Allure & What’s Cool to Kids

Cocaine In A Can, Coming To Teens This Fall

Energy Drinks and Alcohol, A Monster Mix of Madness

Rockstar21 Rocks for Ditching Their Confusing Cans!

Hey, Kids, Your “Energy Drinks” Now Come With Alcohol!

Visual Credit/via Today Show screenshot of video…



  1. I had NO IDEA that caffeine made you lose calcium. We have a no-caffeine policy, except for the chocolate, ha ha ha. Looks like we’ll be reevaluating that.

  2. Well, to be fair, to add to Rebecca’s deconstruction, CSPI’s article balances by saying,

    “You lose up to 5 mg. of calcium for every 6 oz. of regular coffee (or two cans of cola) you drink…BUT…(always a but, for context ;-)…You can offset the loss by adding one or two tablespoons of milk to your coffee or increasing your milk intake by that much, according to Robert Heaney of Creighton Univ. in Omaha.”

    We’ve found plenty of studies that talk about calcium being leeched from the bones leading to osteoporosis in preteen bodies particularly at risk from the heavy soda-drinking component (I can send you an article I wrote for on this, re: teen bone loss/breakage among girls)

    Plus…there’s tons of articles/links like this one: “Unhealthy habits that hurt kids bones”
    and HealthWorld’s naturopathic medicine report on Caffeine, Sugar & Bone Loss and from Family Kids & Caffeine: An Unhealthy combo

    I guess I’m hesitant to discuss ‘off-sets’ because I feel marketers will go for the easy route re: kids, as in, “Hey, cool beans! just add milk to make it a latte, and you’re good to go, no problemo” That’s why I’m hesitant to talk about ‘counter-acting’ since kids’ bodies react to EVERYthing in much bigger ways…

    Just chaps my hide that the FDA isn’t ‘on this’ —A caffeine surge is not just targeting older teens, it’s tweens and grade schoolers too…parents grow weary and nonplussed about caffeine when there’s far more ‘monitoring’ of gonzo products in the mix to worry about…like the alcohol-n-caffeine combo that CSPI is filing suit against A-B for…

  3. I’m glad you learned something new about nutrition from reading my post! Yay… I helped one person!

    If your kids are healthy, you only need to worry about calcium losses if caffeine intake is high and calcium intake is low. That’s why I like 1% chocolate milk or chocolate soymilk. It nixes a chocolate buzz and gives calcium. Win-win.

    Be well,

  4. I ALWAYS learn new stuff from you, Rebecca…

    My chocolate-loving cherub would be slurping the sweet stuff full tilt if I kept it around; it’s only a ‘treat’ here, since she’s a plain ol’ nonfat moo juice type. (admittedly, because that’s all I buy)

    Still, once in awhile, she snarfs the organic choc. milk which is soooooooooo yummy (like a shake to me) And we BOTH crave our local/historic Peninsula Creamery diner that has REAL chocolate shakes, rootbeer floats and rich homemade offerings that probably have all kinds of caffeine in ’em…but hey…a on a splurge I could care less…I’m a “moderation” kinda gal.

    It’s the heavy duty marketing of ‘daily doses’ of kids’ caffeine that makes me a little…(dare I say it?)…edgy.

  5. I’ll add that this “Jump Sky High” place where kids literally bounce off the walls is appropo…ahem.

  6. Hi Amy-

    Trying to get in touch with you– thanks for the great response to my post on the Kiss My Assets blog. Would love to work with you. My email is enclosed with this comment so I’ll look forward to hearing from you– we can set up a call if that works best!

    It’s always surprising what’s in children’s drinks and foods. And advertisers always make those items look so attractive to kids. Who wouldn’t want to “have wings” or be able to do what the best athletes do? It couldn’t be their determination, focus, and drive– it must be the caffeine (wink, wink)!

    My feeling is that we must educate the children as well as the parents. Most people just don’t realize what goes into many of the foods and drinks we put into our own bodies or our children’s bodies. We can be very trusting of the manufacturers (especially ones that work with kid’s foods– because we assume they have the children’s best interests in mind). It sometimes escapes us that they’re running a business and they want to provide what tastes good, feels good, and looks good– not necessarily what IS good.

    By the way- given your interest in the caffeine world of kids, I thought you might like this article I wrote on children and sugar that’s been very popular with parents.

    Thank you for all your hard work and great articles.

    Talk to you soon!

  7. Robyn, my e-mail’s been crashed, can’t send or retrieve…

    Back at you next week (or even this wkend!) as the cavalry is coming today…tech support…I’ve already been through Symantec taking over the system yesterday from India and hope to have system stability soon…AUUUUUUUUUUUUgh. Tech woes. Thanks for your patience!!! Eager to connect!!! —Amy

  8. Amy-

    If you’d like- send me a note through my website (contact page)with your info and I’ll call you. Or send up a smoke signal and I’ll try to find you…

    Looking forward to hearing from you. My regards to your sick email.

  9. I agree that children these days do not eat properly. Sadly in most cases it has to do with the parents. The only way to combat this is to educate the parents on nutrition and how to cook good healthy meals. Healthy food does not have to taste bad and if you can get kids hooked on good tasting healthy food than the stigma of healthy food having to taste bad may be eliminated. I found this website that had some great parenting advice, on how to talk to your kids on competition, it also has information on nutrition and recipes. Its called and there is a Parent Corner Link on the left hand side. It is very helpful and there is tons of other helpful information on sports. It also has drills and tips for coaches of all sports.

  10. Hi Jon, I checked out the parents corner, though must say I don’t see a stigma of healthy food tasting bad…

    In fact, when given the option between fresh and the overly processed drek being flung at sports/team snack types of food opps, kids will ALWAYS choose fresh.

    Your site is interesting though, in that the ads and tips will need to be deconstructed very carefully from a health/nutrition standpoint, so we’ll forward it on to Rebecca, our dietary expert to have her ‘give ’em a go!’

    Here’s the parents corner link that Jon mentions:

    Thanks for making us aware of your site, and I look forward to hearing what Rebecca has to say, as well as exploring some of your coaching methodology and such, so will put it in my queue to review more thoroughly, as we both have considerable overlap in our concerns for kids’ health and well-being! Looks cool…

    Which reminds me, could you give me any background in terms of the privacy/user security/age verifications you’re using for the ‘under 13’ crowd? We’re having a tough time monitoring ‘tweens’ (age 8-12) to drill into them the ‘sports team/jersey issues of posting their fun videos on YouTube and such.

    What kind of API/moderation/video screening do you have in place? Maybe we could do a ‘media literacy’ piece on that to lend a hand? You can always reach me on the blog here, I welcome (and APPRECIATE) all comments and heads ups on new media coming into the mix!

  11. Oh!!! And for those parents needing to counter-market the snack pack pre-processed junk, (check w/coaches who might be doing same)

    Here’s our ThreeP tactics for sports team snack attacks:

  12. I was not aware how much damage coffee did to us. Fortunately for a while, my family and I have been taking some great nutritionals. USANA. Try the Vitamins, Minerals, Biomega and Calcium. They have worked great for us.

    Thank you for your insights.

    Sergio Sedas Gersey

  13. Nice post. I just glanced through it. Maybe I can really read it later

  14. Thanks, guys…I tend to get a bit too wordy and detailed, so apologies if it’s too lengthy, but it IS important stuff to deconstruct properly.

    In fact, soon we’ll be debuting a kids beta test inside a virtual world to seed positive nutrition and use informal learning to cue kids re: caffeine/calcium absorption issues and soda reverb, etc.—It’ll be on Elf in the spring of 2009…so stay tuned! Meanwhile, keep me updated on any new data you feel might be relevant for us…Oblige, Amy

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