As any mom or dad will attest, most kids are full of energy. Why then, would they want their children to consume caffeine for an energy boost?
The Food and Drug Administration recently began an investigation into why certain food and beverage companies are adding caffeine to products targeted at children. The agency also is looking into caffeine's safety. In a related development, San Francisco's city attorney sued Monster Beverage Corp., accusing the company of marketing its caffeinated energy drinks to children as young as 6.
A growing number of foods have added caffeine with labels referring to "the right energy" and similar phrasing. Caffeine is being added to trail mix, oatmeal, potato chips, chewing gum, jelly beans, beef jerky, hot sauce, trail mix, as well as energy drinks and energy shots.
These companies say they are marketing their products to adults. Yet many of the items, such as candy and gum, are attractive to children.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in coffee beans, tea leaves and cacao. When caffeine is added to products, it must be included in the ingredients, but the amount doesnt have to be.
The FDA does not set caffeine limits for energy drinks, only for colas (capped at 6 milligrams per ounce).
Not much is known about the effects of caffeine on children. The American Academy of Pediatrics says caffeine has been linked to harmful effects on children's developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems. It can also affect sleep. In large amounts, caffeine can cause brain seizures and cardiac arrest.
A study published in the December 2010 Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology discovered boys are more stimulated by caffeine than girls and that both genders have a preference for so-called junk food after consuming it.
As many caffeinated parents can attest, the compound is addictive and sudden withdrawal produces a throbbing headache.
A single serving of any of these foods or beverages is unlikely to be harmful. But what about a child who consumes caffeine throughout the day?
Most health professionals say there is no role for caffeine in kids' lives. Parents trying to control their children's caffeine intake should educate their children what to look for. Packages that tout "energy" should raise a red flag.
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.