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How Young Is Too Young For My Child to Drink Caffeine?

I recently had a conversation with a parent whose 15-year-old son regularly consumed McDonald’s Frappes. While the conversation made me long for the sweet taste of chocolate coffee goodness, it sparked a question.

Is this kid old enough to drink coffee?

In this post I will address the pros and cons of consuming caffeine at all, and what considerations you should have for your children who want a caffeine-containing beverage.

What is the youngest age that a child can consume caffeine?

Photo credit: tylernixcreative.com

Due to the changes to blood pressure, heart rate, sleep and multiple other systems, children under the age of 12 should not consume any caffeinated foods or beverages. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other professional organizations agree.

Over the age of 12, children should be limited to no more than 80-100 mg of caffeine per day. A traditional 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine in it. Most kids get their caffeine from pop (yes, I’m from the Midwest. It’s pop, not soda.)

Here are a few caffeine quantities in soft drinks.

Red Bull (8.2 oz) 80.0
Diet Coke 12 ounces (375ml) 45.6
Tea – brewed1 cup40-60*
Pepsi12 ounces (375ml)37.5
Coca-Cola12 ounces (375ml)34
Pepsi Zero Sugar20 oz.115
Mountain Dew—diet or regular20 oz.91
Diet Coke20 oz.76

But how much caffeine is in a Frappe from McDonald’s?

16 oz. Frappe Mocha w/ whip (Mocha Frappuccino)

Nutrition and Price Starbucks McCafe 
calories 370 560 
grams of fat 15 g 24 g
sugars54 g 70 g 
price$3.99 $2.99 
caffeine content95 mg85 mg

These caffeine quantities do not exceed the maximum recommended amount for children, but remember that caffeine also has side effects. It can cause jitteriness, nervousness, upset stomach and problems sleeping and concentrating.

Do you know what else I noticed? The amount of calories in those drinks. The National Institute of Health reports the following caloric needs for teenagers and adolescents. Moderately active 9-13 year-old kids need an average of 1800-2200 calories per day. 14-18 years need 2000-2400 calories per day.

One McDonald’s Frappe has over 25% of the entire calories needed on average in one day. Regular consumption of drinks like this can be a recipe for weight gain and childhood obesity, which can become high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, and obesity in adulthood.

What about energy drinks?

From US News and World Report:

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;

It’s just not safe and unfortunately these drinks can seem as appealing as juice or pop to kids.

Do adults have the same concerns when it comes to caffeine consumption?

An expert from The Institute for Scientific Information says:

In moderation, caffeine provides mental and physical performance benefits, Cook explains: “Caffeine can be beneficial at improving alertness, particularly when the circadian clock is low after lunch or in the middle of a night shift,”

There’s no harm in enjoying a caffeinated drink for a pre-workout boost, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics​. The group suggests a low-fat latte, which typically delivers about 120 calories, 10 grams of protein and 75 milligrams of caffeine.

And actually, coffee has been shown to have a number of health benefits, some related to heart health and increasing lifespan. These benefits can be expected adults because that was the population studied.

All in all,

… caffeine should be avoided in the under 12 population, and used in moderation in teens, if at all. Toxicity and danger can arise at high levels of caffeine consumption. And remember, real coffee is bitter and low calorie. The super sweet, high calorie drinks are a marketing ploy to get you and your kids to eat something that entices your taste buds quickly.

If my kids are allowed a tasty treat, I would much rather bend on say a milkshake every once and a while than a caffeinated sugar-rush. What do you think? Drop in the comments, and as always,

Thank you for reading! Follow us here and on social at @thegynecoblogic.

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