Kids on caffeine -

Kids on caffeine

In a survey conducted by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, 75 percent of all children ages five to 12 were found to consume caffeine on a daily basis. Even worse, intake was two to three times higher than a decade ago.

Dr. Cara Natterson sees a real connection between caffeine and childhood obesity.

"My biggest issue with caffeine is the sugar load and the empty calories that come with the caffeine," she explains. "Those worry me much more than the actual caffeine itself. Kids get their caffeine in sodas, which are filled with sugar and empty calories. Or in ice cream-based drinks or coffee-flavored drinks. And those also have tremendous sugar load, lots of wasted calories. Chocolate is probably the number one way that kids get caffeine into their diet."

Caffeine is not a nutrient, it is a stimulant. It does help kids to focus and stay on task, but Dr. Natterson warns parents not to caffeinate their kids.

"The negatives of caffeinating a child are much greater than any positives," says Dr. Natterson. "I would never tell a parent [to caffeinate their kid] because you want them to be focused. That is not a piece of valid advice from a pediatrician. Kids don't need high doses of caffeine. In fact, kids actually do very well with no dose of caffeine."

Many kids don't feel well after having too much caffeine.

"Most people have experienced being over-caffeinated. You get jittery, you feel agitated. Some people actually have the shakes. And kids certainly feel the effects of too much caffeine," says Dr. Natterson.

A question many parents ask Dr. Natterson is if caffeine will stunt their child's growth.

"Caffeine itself does not stunt your growth," she says. "By caffeinating your kids, you're really playing with their sleep. Most kids are sensitive to the effects of caffeine. They will have trouble falling asleep at night. Or even if they can fall asleep, they will wake or not go into deep sleep throughout the night. And that's not helpful to a child who's growing and who needs restorative sleep."

Dr. Natterson generally avoids caffeine with her own children.

"My kids are not caffeinated. We don't have soda in the house, because I just think it's a waste of empty calories. It's completely non-nutritious. They'll occasionally get caffeine in the form of chocolate," she says. "My daughter is exquisitely sensitive. She really has trouble falling asleep when she has chocolate in the evening, so we really steer away from it. My son, totally different. He could have a chocolate cookie and go to sleep an hour later. It doesn't phase him."

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