About 73% of U.S. children and young adults ingest caffeine in carbonated beverages, tea and coffee and increasingly in energy drinks according to the study, published this week in the journal Pediatrics.
The incidence of caffeine found in children has not climbed significantly during the past decade although soda use has diminished. Concern has been raised by hospitalizations and several deaths involving highly caffeinated energy shots and energy drinks. No direct links have been proven, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“You might expect that caffeine intake decreased, since so much of the caffeine kids drink comes from soda,” said the study’s lead author, Amy Branum, a statistician at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics told WebMD, “But what we saw is that these decreases in soda were offset by increases in coffee and energy drinks.”
Although energy drinks remain a small portion of the caffeine children consume, at about 6%, five years ago they weren’t even on anyone’s radar, Branum said.
“In a very short time, they have gone from basically contributing nothing to 6 percent of total caffeine intake,” she said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration-financed researchers are investigating the safety of caffeine-containing foods and drinks with a focus on children and teens. This is the first analysis to examine national trends, according to reports by the Associated Press.
The study is based on questionnaires completed by 22,000 children from age 2 to 22 during the period 1999 through 2010. These children or their parents answered questions about what they ate or drank the previous day, a common method researchers use to assess Americans’ diets.
The wire service reported that in 2010, 10 percent of daily caffeine came from energy drinks for 19- to 22-year-olds; 2 percent for 17- to 18-year-olds, and 3 percent for 12- to 16-year-olds. For younger kids, the amount from energy drinks was mostly minimal or none during the study.
Although much of their caffeine still comes from soda, the proportion has decreased from 62% to 38%. At the same time, the amount of caffeine kids get from coffee rose from 10 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2010, the researchers found.
Soda was the most common source of caffeine throughout the study for older children and teens; for those up to age 5, it was the second most common after tea.
Dr. Stephen Daniels, chairman of the academy’s nutrition committee, said caffeine has no nutritional value and there’s no good data on what might be a safe amount for kids.
Evidence that even very young children may regularly consume caffeine products raises concerns about possible long-term health effects, so parents should try to limit their kids’ intake, said Daniels, head of pediatrics at the University of Colorado’s medical school.
The average intake in the study was about 60- to 70 milligrams daily, the amount in a 6-ounce cup of coffee or two sodas, according to CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. For the youngest kids it was much less than that.
Use of energy drinks increased rapidly during the study, even if they didn’t amount to a big portion of kids’ caffeine intake, and that rise “is a trend researchers are going to keep their eyes on,” Branum said.
Instead of caffeinated drinks, doctors recommend children drink water and moderate amounts of juice.