Here is a two-part article on the increasing caffeine consumption
by children and youths in the U.S. that appeared in the San Mateo
County Times on October 26 and 28, 1998, and probably in other ANG Newspapers
in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was written by Dr. Ron
Eisenberg and Dr. Virgil Williams, staff physicians at Highland
General Hospital in Oakland, California, who apparently write
other medical related columns for the newspaper group.
An interesting (or scary) note is that the new ballpark for the
San Francisco Giants baseball team will have a kid's playground
in and around an 80 foot "Coke" bottle partly lying on its side
which will pop its top and blow bubbles when a home run is
AOL doesn't allow copyrighted stories to be posted on the message
boards, and the papers don't have it on a web site, so I am
sending this directly to you.
Youths Perking Up to the Caffeine Culture
Q. Is caffeine bad for kids?
A. A recent article by Helen Cordes that
appeared in The Nation and the Pacific Sun (a highly rated weekly
paper published just north of San Francisco) describes a younger
generation guzzling large quantities of caffeine with little or no attention
paid to studies indicating the negative consequences of children's
Ironically, this is occurring at the same time baby boomers have
decided caffeine is something they should avoid.
How much caffeine are children consuming? The numbers are
The most conservative estimates in a 1994 survey by the
Department of Agriculture have children and teens guzzling more than 64 gallons
of soda a year, an amount that has tripled for teens since 1978, doubled
for the 6-11 set and increased by a quarter for tots younger than 5.
In fast-food joints, convenience stores and restaurants (where
many children get up to 40 percent of their meals). It is common to see
young children and teens downing "big gulp" sized caffeinated sodas or lining
up for seconds and thirds and refillable soda stations.
These megadrinks can pack a wallop equal to three cups of strong
coffee. Remember that this amount of caffeine is bombarding a body that
may be only one-half to two-thirds the size of an adult.
In school cafeterias, children are bypassing milk for cans of
soda that contain huge amounts of caffeine.
Indeed, the best-selling product at grocery stores is soda, which
accounts for almost $12 Billion in sales each year.
And four of the five most popular soft drinks sold in the United
States are caffeinated (No. 4 Sprite, is the only exception.) With the
proliferation of coffee shops, children and teens now have another outlet for
caffeine consumption. At their favorite hangout, many juvenile
customers scorn decaf in favor of sugary coffee drinks.
Remember that 12 ounces of a regular Starbucks coffee contains
about 190 milligrams of caffeine, more than three times the amount in a
similar-sized can of Coke or Pepsi (35-60 milligrams of caffeine).
Major caffeine suppliers to children have been investing millions
of dollars into advertising and giveaway schemes. Dozens of school
districts have succumbed to the almighty dollar in agreeing to exclusive
contracts with specific cola manufacturers as well as the right to put ads on
gym walls and school buses. Soda companies also plaster their ads and
logos on everything from free textbook covers to computer screen savers and mouse
The marketing strategy behind the new high-caffeine products is
ingeniously suited for a generation facing family instability, a less secure
job future, and that's dogged by stress and powerlessness.
Marketers have created names that pulse with power, such as
"Surge", "Zapped", "Full Speed"and "Outburst". "Josta", laced with
both caffeine and the pick-me-up herb guarana, hypes its "raw, primal
power". In effect, caffeine has become the perfect
antidote for youths facing the pressures of the '90s. It provides a
boost of sociability, enhanced performance and energy. Although this
inevitably results in a subsequent droop, this only reinforces the need to have
PART TWO October 28, 1998
Like grown-ups, kids show ill
effects of too much caffeine in body, behavior.
The concerns of researchers about the adverse effects of caffeine
fall into two categories. First, there is the question of how
children react behaviorally to the addictive and stimulant qualities of
caffeine. Second, how does caffeine affect the bodies of children? Several studies
have shown that children respond to caffeine the same as do adults. A
low dose may aid concentration and task completion, but higher doses typically
make children nervous, anxious, fidgety, frustrated and quicker to
A psychiatric researcher at the National Institutes of Mental
Health reported that 8 to 13 year-olds who regularly consumed high doses
of caffeine were judged more restless by teachers. Indeed,
about one-third were hyperactive enough to meet the criteria for attention deficit
disorder with hyperactivity.
When children consuming low amounts of caffeine were given a
daily dosage equivalent to that of their higher-consuming peers, parents
reported that they become more emotional, inattentive and restless.
In a study of preschoolers from an higher income New York City
suburb, heavier caffeine consumers among children who had the equivalent
of three to four cups of coffee daily had more "uncontrollable
energy". Some of these children were actually misdiagnosed
as having attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity.
Like adults, children who are regular caffeine drinkers suffer
ill effects when they do not get a regular "shot". In one study,
fifth and sixth graders who were deprived of daily caffeine reported
having symptoms including trouble thinking clearly, not feeling energetic and
getting angry. Even those consuming less than the equivalent of one soda each
day felt symptoms. In effect, these children had become dependent
Caffeine can also be harmful to the growing bodies of
children. Large doses of caffeine cause excessive excretion of calcium and magnesium,
vital elements for the formation of a normal bone mass. This is exacerbated by
the fact that children are less likely now to replace calcium by drinking milk.
Milk consumption has plummeted in recent years largely because children are
downing soft drinks instead.
The phosphoric acid in cola beverages may be particularly detrimental to the
health of children. There is evidence that it can cause bone fractures
and tooth enamel breakdown.
In addition, the drinking of caffeinated, carbonated drinks may
exacerbate common childhood ailments such as ear infections and respiratory
irritations that produce colds, bronchitis, and asthma.
Caffeine and carbonated beverages can trigger "refluxing", in
which a faulty sphincter muscle mechanism allows the acid contents of the
upper stomach to back up and irritate portions of the respiratory
tract (including the throat and ears).
Researchers also worry about potential problems related to
excessive caffeine consumption that will not be seen until the children
mature. For example, there may be increasing rates of osteoporosis as well as
hypertension (since caffeine raises the blood pressure).
What can concerned parents do about caffeine? Try to determine
exactly how much caffeine your child consumes each day you probably will be
shocked. Experts recommend that children and teens should stay well under
100 milligrams of caffeine per day, which equals between one and two
cans of soda (depending on the caffeine content).
Encourage your children to drink water and 100 percent pure fruit
juice. Teach your children that caffeine is a drug that can be dangerous
in large amounts.
Support campaigns to force manufacturers to label their products
so that you know exactly how much caffeine they contain. Finally,
support efforts to restrict soda sales and eliminate all cola advertising in