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Are Energy Drink Safe for Kids?

Would you believe there are now at least 200 different energy drinks on the market? Yep. It’s a billion-dollar industry. But is it a good idea for parents or kids to get an energy-drink buzz?

A typical 12-ounce energy drink has about three times the amount of caffeine in a 12-ounce Coca-Cola and nearly the same amount of caffeine as in a cup of coffee.

“There was a time when we would get our caffeine intake from coffee and cola, but now there are a number of caffeine-containing beverages, and we need to be careful because over a period of 24 hours, that caffeine intake is cumulative,” says dietitian Dee Rollins, PhD.

For both children and adults, too much caffeine can cause jitteriness and nervousness, upset stomach, headaches, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure.

For kids, the U.S. hasn’t developed caffeine guidelines, and the amount of caffeine a child can safely consume depends on age and size. Canadian guidelines recommend limiting children’s caffeine intake to no more than 2.5 milligrams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. Based on typical body weights, this translates to:

  • 45 mg for ages 4-6
  • 62.5 mg for ages 7-9
  • 85 mg for ages 8-12

Dr. Rollins and other experts recommend that adults limit their caffeine intake to 400 milligrams per day. An adult who drinks two cups of coffee and one 12-ounce energy drink will usually stay within the 400-mg limit. For both adults and children, set daily caffeine limits, “keep track of daily caffeine consumption and check the back of (energy drink) labels and make sure that you don’t get more than your daily limit,” she advises.

How Much Caffeine?

  Item Size Caffeine
Cup of brewed coffee 5 ounces 80-125 mg.
  Red Bull 12 ounces 115 mg.
  Amp 12 ounces 106 mg.
  RockStar 12 ounces 90 mg.
  Jolt 12 ounces 71 mg.
  Coca Cola 12 ounces 34 mg.

Other Cautions

In hot weather, an extra reason to carefully limit kids’ caffeine intake is dehydration. Caffeine is a diuretic that causes the body to eliminate water.

If a child or adult becomes used to a daily amount of caffeine, abruptly stopping its use can cause withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, muscle aches, temporary depression, and irritability.

Although low-calorie versions of some energy drinks are available, many contain very high amounts of sugar and sodium, well-known contributors to childhood obesity.

The bottom line is that energy drinks contain too much caffeine for small children. One typical 12-ounce energy drink (or cup of coffee) contains a bit more caffeine than the Canadian guidelines for kids ages 8-12.

Kathy Sena is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to MetroKids.

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