Children and the Caffeine Culture

This section was compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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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 hit.

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 caffeine intake.

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 staggering.

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 611 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 (3560 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 pads.

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 more.

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 anger.

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 on caffeine.

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 schools.



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