Youth Caffeine Consumption: Soda Fizzles, But Coffee Buzzes



Caffeine consumption has not increased among children and adolescents in recent years, and on any given day, 73 percent are consuming the substance. The levels may have remained fairly consistent, but the sources of caffeine have changed, according to a study published in Pediatrics states. As soda drinking has declined, the use of coffee and energy drinks increased.

The purpose of the study was to make note of trends in the caffeine intake of children and adolescents between 1999 and 2010. It also wanted to establish baseline levels of consumption. While attention has been given to how caffeine impacts adults, this has not been the case with children. To accomplish this analysis, researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. For purposes of comparison, the study often used data from two periods: 1999-2000 and 2009-2010.

Habits changed depending on the age group. For the youngest group observed, children aged 2 to 5 years old, soda declined to the point where it was overtaken by tea to become the largest source of caffeine. In the oldest group, 19 to 22 year olds, coffee was the biggest contributor. This group also reported a 10 percent rate for energy drinks in 2009/2010.

From 1999 to 2000, soda accounted for 62 percent, and by 2009 to 2010, this had fallen to 38 percent. In both sets of data, tea was the second largest source, and levels remained fairly consistent between the rounds of surveys analyzed. Coffee drinking was reported by 10 percent in the first round, and had jumped to 24 percent in the 2009/2010 survey. In the 1999/2000 survey data, energy drinks were not a measured category; for the second set of data, they had a 6 percent consumption rate. Demographically, white children were most likely to consume caffeine.

Consumption rates have held steady due to the drop in soda and rise of coffee and energy drinks. However, this will not remain the case if the trend of drinking more coffee and energy drinks continues. Additionally, food products increasingly contain caffeine. These candy bars, chips, and gum are more prevalent than they were a decade ago, and are frequently marketed to children.

The study did not make health assessments. ”These findings provide a baseline for caffeine intake among U.S. children and young adults in the advent of increasing energy drink sales and availability,” the researchers concluded. “Additional research will be needed to continue to monitor these trends and to determine the role of increasing energy drink and coffee consumption on child and adolescent health.”

The American Beverage Association (or, ABA) issued a statement after the study was published. “This study shows that children and adolescents consume less caffeine than they have in previous years. In fact, the most recent data demonstrates virtually no caffeine consumption from energy drinks among children under 12 and extremely low consumption for adolescents aged 12 to 18. Furthermore, findings from this study reaffirm that overall, consumption of caffeine from soft drinks by this group also has decreased.” The ABA continued, saying that caffeine has been consumed around the world for centuries.

The Food and Drug Administration classifies caffeine as a drug as well as a food additive. It says that in moderate amounts, caffeine is not harmful, but there are dangers from overdosing.

The American Academy of Pediatrics responded as well. A statement noted that consumption rates had not increased, however, “The American Academy of Pediatrics maintains a position that stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and adolescents.” The organization is also concerned about the study’s findings “about the role of energy drinks and coffee as increasingly significant contributors to caffeine intake among children and adolescents.”

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