Most parents wouldn't dream of giving their kids a mug of coffee, but might routinely serve soft drinks containing caffeine. Foods and drinks with caffeine are everywhere, but it's wise to keep caffeine consumption to a minimum, especially in younger kids.
The United States hasn't developed guidelines for caffeine intake and kids, but Canadian guidelines recommend that preschoolers get no more than 45 milligrams of caffeine a day. That's equivalent to the average amount of caffeine found in a single 12-ounce (355-milliliter) can of soda.
A stimulant that affects kids and adults similarly, caffeine is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. Caffeine is also made artificially and added to certain foods. Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system. At lower levels, it can make people feel more alert and energetic.
In both kids and adults, too much caffeine can cause:
Especially in young kids, it doesn't take a lot of caffeine to produce these effects.
Here are some other reasons to limit kids' caffeine consumption:
One thing that caffeine doesn't do is stunt growth. Although scientists once worried that caffeine could hurt growth, this isn't supported by research.
Although kids get most of their caffeine from sodas, it's also found in coffee, tea, chocolate, coffee ice cream or frozen yogurt, as well as pain relievers and other over-the-counter medicines. Some parents may give their kids iced tea in place of soda, thinking that it's a better alternative. But iced tea can contain as much sugar and caffeine as soda.
Here's how some sources of caffeine compare:
|Item||Amount of Item||Amount of Caffeine|
|Jolt soft drink||12 ounces||71.2 mg|
|Mountain Dew||12 ounces||55.0 mg|
|Coca-Cola||12 ounces||34.0 mg|
|Diet Coke||12 ounces||45.0 mg|
|Pepsi||12 ounces||38.0 mg|
|7-Up||12 ounces||0 mg|
|brewed coffee (drip method)||5 ounces||115 mg*|
|iced tea||12 ounces||70 mg*|
|dark chocolate||1 ounce||20 mg*|
|milk chocolate||1 ounce||6 mg*|
|cocoa beverage||5 ounces||4 mg*|
|chocolate milk beverage||8 ounces||5 mg*|
|cold relief medication||1 tablet||30 mg*|
|*average amount of caffeine|
Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Soft Drink Association
Caffeine sensitivity refers to the amount of caffeine that will produce an effect in someone, which varies from person to person. On average, the smaller the person, the less caffeine necessary to produce side effects. However, caffeine sensitivity is most affected by daily caffeine intake.
People who regularly drink beverages containing caffeine soon develop a reduced sensitivity to it. This means they need higher doses of caffeine to achieve the same effects as someone who doesn't drink caffeinated drinks often. So, the more caffeine kids take in, the more caffeine they'll need to feel the same effects.
In addition to being more susceptible to the effects of caffeine based on size, younger kids are more sensitive because they haven't been exposed to it as much as older kids or adults.
Caffeine moves through the body within a few hours and is then passed through the urine (pee). It's not stored in the body, but kids may feel its effects for up to 6 hours if they're sensitive to it.
Can you keep kids caffeine-free? Absolutely! The best way to cut caffeine (and added sugar) is to eliminate soda. Instead, offer water, milk, or flavored seltzer; you also can serve 100% fruit juice in small amounts. For added convenience, serve water in squeeze bottles that kids can carry around. You can still serve the occasional soda or tea — just make it noncaffeinated. And watch for hidden caffeine by checking the ingredient list on foods and beverages.
If your teen has taken up coffee drinking, one cup a day can easily turn into several (as most adults know), especially if your teen drinks it to stay awake during late-night study sessions.
The best way to reduce coffee caffeine intake is to cut back slowly. Otherwise, kids (and adults) could get headaches and feel achy, depressed, or just downright lousy.
Try substituting noncaffeinated drinks for caffeinated sodas and coffee (water, caffeine-free sodas, and caffeine-free teas). Keep track of how many caffeinated drinks your child has each day, and substitute one drink per week with a caffeine-free alternative until he or she has gotten below the 100-milligram mark.
Someone cutting back on caffeine may feel tired. The best bet is to hit the sack, not the sodas: It's just a body's way of saying that more rest is needed. Don't worry — energy levels will return to normal in a few days.
Feel free to let kids indulge in a sliver of chocolate cake at birthday parties or a cup of tasty hot cocoa on a cold day — these choices don't pack enough caffeine punch to be harmful. As with everything, moderation is the key to keeping your kids' caffeine consumption under control.
Reviewed by: Jane M. Benton, MD, MPH
Date reviewed: June 2014
|U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.|
|Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.|
|U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) The USDA works to enhance the quality of life for people by supporting the production of agriculture.|
|Does Coffee Stunt Your Growth? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Why Drinking Water Is the Way to Go All living things need water to survive. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Headaches Headaches affect kids as well as adults. Learn about common causes and when to talk to a doctor.|
|Dehydration Your body is about two thirds water. When the water level dips below that level, you could be dehydrated. Read about what causes dehydration, what it does to your body, and how to prevent it.|
|Dehydration Sometimes kids lose fluids and salts through fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or long periods of exercise with excessive sweating. Here are some tips on preventing or treating dehydration.|
|What's the Big Sweat About Dehydration? Our bodies need water to work properly. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Is Caffeinated Soda OK for Kids? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Caffeine Confusion Should kids have caffeine? And what is it exactly? Find out in this article for kids.|
|What Sleep Is and Why All Kids Need It When you get a good night's sleep, it's like giving your body a tiny vacation. Find out the scoop on sleep in this article for kids.|
|Caffeine Caffeine has probably helped you through long nights of studying or filling out college applications. But how much do you know about caffeine and its side effects?|
|Healthy Drinks for Kids What kids drink can drastically affect the amount of calories consumed, as well as the amount of calcium needed to build strong bones.|
|Breastfeeding FAQs: Your Eating and Drinking Habits Here are answers to some common questions about what breastfeeding mothers should and shouldn't eat and drink.|
|Can I Still Drink Coffee Now That I'm Pregnant? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Common Sleep Problems Sleep problems can keep some teens awake at night even when they want to sleep. If that sounds like you, find out what you can do.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.