When I was 12, I remember seeing a cousin giving her toddler a baby bottle filled with Diet Coke. At the time, I thought something seemed out of place, but now as a parent I am appalled on so many levels. Beyond the potential effects of artificial sweeteners (that’s a topic for another day!) I can’t imagine giving that much caffeine to my 5-year-old, much less a 1-year-old.
I admit, begrudgingly, that whenever we pass a Starbucks, my 3-year-old daughter points it out and asks to make a pit stop. Of course, her craving is a scone and vanilla milk. Still, children nowadays are exposed at least to the idea of caffeine consumption much more than we were in past generations. And kids certainly get their fair share of caffeine even if we don’t recognize that we’re giving it to them. (A 1.5-ounce bar of milk chocolate contains 9 mg of caffeine, as do an 8-ounce cup of hot cocoa and a 4-ounce pudding cup.)
Indeed, according to MedicineNet.com, children and adolescents consume 70 percent more caffeine than their counterparts 30 years ago. On average, young teens consume almost half as much caffeine as adults on a daily basis. As the effects of caffeine on growing bodies are uncertain, this data is alarming.
Back in high school, I remember cramming for exams with friends, using caffeine pills, cola and chocolate chip cookie dough to keep us up almost all night. If our parents had any idea we were “snacking” this way, they’d undoubtedly have raised red flags. But the effects of the caffeine were so striking even to us as teenagers in the 1980s -- we knew the extra energy from the caffeine would help keep us alert and focused for a longer period of time. The potential adverse effects were far from our minds at exam time. With the increased accessibility of caffeine-induced products, kids now face even more possible health risks through the use of caffeine.
Marketing madmen have geared energy drink campaigns toward the younger population, though these beverages can contain five times the caffeine of a cup of coffee.