New Study Reveals Variety in Youth Caffeine Consumption

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that while caffeine consumption in children and adolescents have not increased in the last decade, the sources of caffeine for the younger generations have changed in recent years. Specifically, the study highlighted the increase in coffee and energy drink consumption as a source of caffeine for children and teens, as these products seem to be replacing soda consumption for youth at a growing rate. The jump in popularity of other forms of caffeine, especially with respect to energy drinks, may have been predicted years ago as advocate groups warned of harms associated with children’s consumption of those products along with the increased sales to youth as early as 2011.

Pediatrics Study

The study published in Pediatrics in early February, reviewed caffeine consumption in children and adolescents between the years 1999 and 2010, a time period which had not previously been reviewed in terms of caffeine consumption for this population. The data revealed that 73 percent of children consumed caffeine in some form daily. While the two to 11 year old population did show decreases in caffeine consumption for the studied time period, the analysis revealed that overall, no mean caffeine intake increases for children and adolescents were evident.

However, the ways in which children consume caffeine are changing according to the research. Although soda continued to make up the largest source of caffeine for youth, the rates of consumption of soda declined from 62 percent to 38 percent according to the study. Offsetting that reduction, the authors found many children and adolescents have increased their intake of coffee and energy drinks. While coffee intake accounted for only 10 percent of what youth consumed from 1999 to 2000 caffeine-wise, that percentage jumped to 24 percent for the years 2009 and 2010. Similarly, while energy drink consumption was non-existent in 1999 and 2000, because energy drinks were not yet on the market at that time, the study’s authors found that in 2009 and 2010 energy drinks were a source of caffeine for six percent of the study’s participants.

FDA and Caffeine

In May of 2013, the FDA announced its intentions to investigate the growing trend of adding caffeine to a variety of products, which includes not only beverages but also foods such as waffles and syrup as well as gum and candy. In fact, the FDA release described a new gum manufactured by Wrigley that contains the same amount of caffeine as  half a cup of coffee per piece. In acknowledging its focus on these newly caffeinated products, the FDA expressed special concerns of the effect on marketing caffeine to children. “We’re particularly concerned about children and adolescents and the responsibility FDA and the food industry have to protect public health and respect social norms that suggest we shouldn’t be marketing stimulants, such as caffeine, to our children.”

AAP and Caffeine

As early as 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warned parents about the dangers energy drinks could pose for children and teens. In a 2011 Pediatrics report entitled “Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?” the AAP found that while sports drinks that contain electrolyte and water meant to replace what is lost during exercise can be helpful to young athletes, though is not necessary, energy drinks that contain caffeine are linked to potential harm in children in the form of negative developmental effects on the cardiovascular and neurological systems. The 2011 report advised that children should never consume energy drinks because of the dangers associated with stimulants in these products.

New Restrictions?

More recently, a Los Angeles councilman filed a motion calling for legislation adopting age restrictions on the purchase of energy drinks. It was reported that in January of 2014 Councilman Bernard Parks brought a motion to introduce a law that would impose an age requirement on the purchase of energy drinks akin to restrictions of the purchase of other products such as spray paint for youth in many jurisdictions. If this legislation were to be enacted, Los Angeles would be the first city in the country to pass such a restriction.