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Between 1999 and 2010, a steady 73 percent of children ages 2 to 11 consumed caffeine on any given day.
But while soda still accounts for the majority of caffeine intake for this age group, the percentage dropped from 62 percent in 1999 to 38 percent in 2010, the study found. At the same time, consumption of coffee and energy drinks rose as sources of caffeine for these children, says the study, published today in the journal Pediatrics.
Consumption of coffee and coffee drinks accounted for 10 percent of caffeine intake in 1999, but increased to nearly 24 percent in 2010. And energy drinks, which didn’t exist in 1999, accounted for 6 percent of caffeine intake in 2010, the study showed.
“The research didn’t really find a mean increase overall caffeine consumption,” says registered dietician Tara Harwood, MS, RD, CSP, LD. “However they did find that there was a greater proportion of caffeine coming from coffee and energy drinks instead of soda.”
That’s an important difference, as coffee and energy drinks generally have higher concentrations and amounts of caffeine than soda, the study’s authors say.
On average, a 12-oz serving of energy drink contains 36 grams – about four teaspoons – of sugar and about 160 calories, nearly the same as a 12-oz can of soda. However, the amount of caffeine in energy drinks varies between brands but can be as high as 130 milligrams in a 12-oz serving – equivalent to four 12-oz servings of caffeinated soda, the study says.
Similarly, sweetened coffee drinks can contain large amounts of sugar – nearly double the amount of calories of soda, depending on size and flavoring – and caffeine amounts similar to energy drinks.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers caffeine a “safe” substance, its potential adverse effects on children and adolescents are largely unknown because most research has been on adults, the researchers say.
In addition, the caffeine content of energy drinks, unlike cola, is not regulated by the FDA because energy drinks are marketed as and considered dietary supplements.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and adolescents.
“I definitely do not recommend energy drinks because they have this combination of caffeine and other ingredients that could have a synergistic effect,” Ms. Harwood says. “The effects of the caffeine could be amplified and we really don’t know what that could do to your child.”