03 Aug 2014

Caffeinated Kids?

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We may not like to admit it, but most of us are probably not able to get through a single day without a hit of caffeine. Tea, coffee, soft-drinks, energy drinks and even some medicines all contain this addictive drug.

Caffeine’s benefits have been known throughout the world for many years: by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine, which tells the brain when we are tired, caffeine reduces feelings of fatigue. There are so many occasions when the world’s favourite drug can be put to good use: as a morning wake-up, to help with a hang-over or after a late night, to stay alert for an afternoon meeting, for sports performance or even a long drive.

But like any drug, caffeine also has a few down-sides. It has a half-life of around 5 hours, which means the stimulating effects of an after-dinner percolation will still be in full force until the early hours of the morning. It can also induce panic attacks and anxiety in those susceptible. What I find worrying, is that the caffeine in soft-drinks and medicines is almost certainly from synthetic caffeine made in chemical labs in China and the like. Regulating the quality and safety of these is incredibly difficult. What’s more – labelling laws at the moment don’t insist that caffeine levels are fully declared on drink bottles so we really haven’t got a clue as to how much we (or our children) are consuming.

As for children; my advice is to not let children have any caffeine at all. Just in case you think I’m being a little over cautious, here is a quote from a report in 2011 on caffeine from the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Rigorous review and analysis of the literature reveal that caffeine and other stimulating substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.”   

Hayley Kuter
Paediatric Dietitian
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