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Highly Caffeinated Beverages And Kids Not The Best Mix

Mom, I need coffee; coffee, I tell you!” my 12-year-old daughter announced dramatically as she wandered around the house early one morning. She was gathering her school supplies at 6:30 a.m. before leaving to attend a “super-early” orchestra rehearsal.

I glanced at my husband and raised my eyebrows.

“She has started making her own coffee concoction with coffee, milk and hot cocoa mix,” he said.

“I’m still wide awake during my third class!” our daughter said as she took a sip of her homemade mocha beverage.

I was about to comment about her caffeine consumption, then I thought back many years to when I was her age. Let’s just say she’s a chip off the old block. At her age, I even made the coffee for my parents in the morning. I drank plain black coffee, though.

On a positive note, my daughter was getting some calcium and vitamin D from the added milk. I would estimate the caffeine in her milk-diluted beverage at 50 milligrams of caffeine or about the amount of caffeine in a cola beverage. A cup of brewed coffee has about 100 milligrams of caffeine.

About 90 per cent of adults consume caffeine in some form, whether it’s coffee, tea, cola or another food or beverage. Most caffeine consumers have the equivalent of about two cups of coffee per day.

Some caffeinated “energy drinks” marketed to children and teens contain as much as 500 milligrams of caffeine. That’s quite a caffeine jolt, with the equivalent of five cups of coffee in one “serving.”

Are highly caffeinated energy drinks an issue for kids? According to some research, the excess consumption of energy drinks is linked with risky behaviours, including smoking, drinking alcohol, aggressive behaviour and drug use.

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system. In moderate doses, it wakes you up and enhances your ability to concentrate. According to some studies with children, a moderate amount of caffeine can increase alertness, but it doesn’t necessarily improve academic performance.

Moderate doses of caffeine can enhance our energy level, making our reactions faster and more accurate. Many adult and youth athletes have used moderate doses of caffeine to improve athletic performance.

Although caffeine consumption has not been widely studied among children, too much caffeine can result in jitteriness, fidgeting and sleeplessness. Withdrawing from caffeine can result in headaches and tiredness.

Beyond the caffeine content, remember that special coffee drinks, colas and energy drinks also can be high in calories. Drinking excess calories easily can contribute to weight gain. If you enjoy regular trips to the “coffee bar,” for a specialty coffee, ask to see the Nutrition Facts for your beverage choice. You might be surprised.

– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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