Caffeine intake in children

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Caffeine is naturally occurring in coffee, tea and cocoa and is added to a range of other popular products including cola and energy drinks1-3. Whereas coffee is a major contributing source of caffeine in the diet of adults, this is usually not the case for children or adolescents, who tend not to acquire a liking for coffee until they are older.

Moderate caffeine intakes are of no concern for the general adult population, however concerns have been raised about caffeine consumption by children and adolescents, particularly in relation to ‘energy drinks’, which may contain other constituents that impact on health51.

Caffeine intake levels in children
The EFSA Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database shows that coffee consumption by children is insignificant and intake by adolescents is very low52, resulting in a negligible caffeine intake from coffee for these age groups. However other sources of caffeine were shown to be present in their diet such as cocoa-based products or other beverages such as soft drinks. U.S. studies suggest that the majority of caffeine consumed by children and adolescents comes from other caffeinated beverages such as ‘energy’ drinks53,54.

  • A large and thorough risk assessment of caffeine intake among children and adolescents in Nordic countries was published in 2008 in which the authors stated that very few children consumed coffee before they were 13 years of age55.
  • A study of the Austrian population did not include intake data for children/adolescents under the age of 14 years56.
  • In UK children (5-10 years) the daily intake of caffeine was 12 mg/day at the age of 7 and 24 mg at the age of 10 years. Fifty-four percent of the caffeine absorbed came from soft drinks, 8% from tea and 38% from chocolate foods or beverages. None came from coffee57.
  • A U.S. study has suggested that the majority of caffeine consumed by children and adolescents comes from other caffeinated beverages such as ‘energy’ drinks54.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in its Scientific Opinion on Caffeine suggested that caffeine intakes of 3 mg/kg body weight per day provides a basis for calculating caffeine intakes of no concern for children and adolescents4. They also advised that, as in adults, caffeine doses of about 1.4 mg/kg body weight may increase sleep latency and reduce sleep duration in some children and adolescents, particularly when consumed close to bedtime4.

Caffeine and children’s health
There is limited data available on this topic. However, a systematic review on caffeine in the diet of children and adolescents found that higher intakes of caffeine (>5 mg/kg bodyweight per day) were associated with an increased risk of anxiety and withdrawal symptoms, whilst moderate intake levels (2.5 mg/kg bodyweight per day) were not linked with such effects and indeed may benefit cognitive function and sports performance based on the results of adult studies58. The author highlights the need for further studies to determine the potential health impact of caffeine intakes in children, especially with respect to possible long term effects of regular caffeine intake on their developing body and mind and whether there may be benefits for alertness and sports performance with moderate intakes of caffeine58.

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