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  • Posted May 20, 2024

1 in 4 Parents Say Their Teen Drinks Caffeine Daily

Many teens are spending their days buzzed on caffeine, with their parents mostly unaware of the potential risks, a new national poll says.

A quarter of parents reported that caffeine is basically part of their teen's daily life, according to the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health released Monday.

Two out of three parents said they know whether their teen's caffeine intake is appropriate, and which products contain too much caffeine, poll results say.

However, a third of parents weren't able to identify the recommended caffeine limits for teens, researchers found after polling just over 1,000 U.S. parents in February.

“Our report suggests parents may not always be aware of how much they should be limiting caffeine consumption for teens,” said poll co-director and Mott pediatrician Dr. Susan Woolford. “Even for parents who know the recommendations, estimating their teen's caffeine intake can be challenging.”

Most teens chose soda as their caffeine source, with tea and coffee coming in second, poll results found. Less than a quarter of parents said their teen consumes energy drinks.

Older teens are more often caffeine users. More parents of kids ages 16 to 18 years than parents of those ages 13 to 15 report their teen consumes coffee daily, the poll found.

“Caffeine is a drug that stimulates the brain and nervous system, and too much of it can contribute to a variety of health problems in young people,” Woolford said in a university news release.

“Teens' brains are still developing, and excessive caffeine consumption can affect their mood, sleep and school performance, along with other side effects,” Woolford added. “They can also become dependent over time, as is true for other drugs.”

Two out of five parents of teens who consume caffeine most of the week say it's simply an ingredient in their kid's favorite product. Less than a fourth say their kids are consuming caffeine because of their peers, and even fewer think it's to help them stay awake or focus while studying.

“As parents appear to suggest that teens consume caffeine more for the taste than for the stimulant effect, it may be possible for parents to encourage the use of similar tasting options that are caffeine-free,” Woolford said. “But parents may not even be aware that kids are drinking several caffeinated drinks a day and how it's adding up.”

Healthy adults can have about 400 milligrams of caffeine each day without any dangerous effects, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, the FDA hasn't given any guidance for teens because there's too little scientific evidence, experts said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine intake by children and teens. Other experts suggest a limit of 100 milligrams per day for teens.

An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine, the researchers said.

But caffeine can vary wildly between different drinks and products.

Sodas, sports drinks and even some brands of water can contain substantial amounts of caffeine. A single can of energy drink might have up to 500 milligrams of caffeine, as well as tons of sugar.

Caffeine is also often tucked away in products like gum, snack bars and over-the counter pain relievers, researchers said.

About 60% of parents polled said they've heard about the risks of highly caffeinated products, but roughly half said they rarely look at caffeine amounts when buying beverages for their teen, poll results show.

The most common place teens consume caffeine is at home, the poll found, followed by dining out. Only a third of teens consume caffeine with friends, while a quarter consume it at school, poll results show.

“Parents can reduce their child's risk of becoming caffeine-dependent by checking product labels before purchasing any of these items for their family,” Woolford said.

Pediatricians recommend that parents keep an eye out for signs their teen is taking in too much caffeine. Common side effects can include insomnia, headaches, irritability and nervousness.

“If your teenager regularly consumes caffeine and is having a hard time sleeping or if they appear jittery, you should take a closer look at whether their caffeine intake is too high,” Woolford said.

Woolford noted that, like other substances, the effect of caffeine wanes over time, and people have to take in greater amounts to get the same impact.

Parents not only should take steps to limit caffeine consumption in the home, but should also talk to their kids about choosing other types of products at school and with friends, Woolford said.

“Parents should consider talking with their teen about the negative impact of excessive caffeine, and then explore non-caffeinated options they can try together at home, at school or when out with friends,” Woolford said. “Parents may also enlist the teen's healthcare provider in explaining the risks of caffeine and suggesting strategies to cut back.”

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more about caffeine and kids.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, May 15, 2024 

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