Sue Scheff: Teens and Caffeine - Good or Bad?

Parents, have you had your cup of coffee this morning? Many of us remember our parents telling us that coffee will stunt our growth. As we know today it was one of those myths. However there are pros and cons to caffeine, especially when used in excess. Read a very timely article by Connect with Kids and how teens are using and/or abusing the use of caffeine through the energy drinks, coffee and more.

Teen Caffeine Abuse
“When I drink too much caffeine my heart flutters and it goes really fast, and I get really dizzy and light-headed - and I feel like I'm going to pass out or throw up.”

– Alicia, 17 years old

17-year-old Byron has a stack of 430 empty cups. He slams down around two large, caffeine-loaded energy drinks every day.

"It hits my brain in about 11 seconds," he says. "I've timed it."

19-year-old Pam has ten caffeinated drinks a day.

"I probably have three cups of coffee," she explains, "and the rest, soda."

Energy drinks, coffee, even caffeine pills.

According to a new study from Drexel University, more and more kids are overusing caffeine. And parents shouldn't be fooled. Kids are often surfing the web into the wee hours of the night rather than studying – and when that caffeine buzz wears off, they can get very sleepy at school.

While experts say drinking coffee in moderation is a relatively safe habit, 85% of kids studied reported an average daily caffeine intake of 144 mg. Doctors warn too much caffeine can cause nausea, chest pain or panic attacks.

Occasionally, kids will land in the emergency room - thinking they're about to have a heart attack.

"Typically this would be a kid who's in some sort of a stressful situation like finals," explains Dr. Stephen Roy Pitts, an emergency room physician at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, "and on top of that anxiety will have not slept much, and will have drunk a lot of coffee or energy drinks and will develop palpitations - meaning an abnormal heartbeat where they can feel their own heart beating."

"When I drink too much caffeine my heart flutters and it goes really fast," says 17-year-old Alicia, "and I get really dizzy and light-headed - and I feel like I'm going to pass out or throw up."

Doctors say some kids should avoid caffeine altogether.

"Caffeine is a horrible idea in kids who already suffer from anxiety that's been identified by some other person," says Dr. Pitts. "I would strongly discourage kids with anxiety problems to ever drink any caffeine."

Pam knows she should cut back on coffee - but so far, hasn't made the effort.

"Everybody tells me I shouldn't drink as much as I do," she admits, "but it tastes good."

What Parents Need To Know
Caffeine is a drug that is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system, causing increased alertness. Caffeine gives most people a temporary energy boost and elevates mood.

Caffeine is also produced artificially and added to certain foods. In its natural form, caffeine tastes very bitter. Caffeine is in tea, coffee, chocolate, many soft drinks, and pain relievers and other over-the-counter medications. But most caffeinated drinks have gone through enough processing to camouflage the bitter taste.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Christina Calamaro, assistant professor in Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions, was reported in Science Daily. Study results found that, fueled by caffeine, teens are up late at night, and they aren't just focusing on homework. Web surfing, text messaging and gaming are keeping them up for hours into the night. At least 85 percent of those studied reported drinking caffeine. At least 30 percent of teenagers reported falling asleep during school. Caffeine consumption tended to be 76 percent higher among those who fell asleep. For those, the average caffeine intake was 144 mg with a range from 23 to 1458 mg. Only 27.5 percent consumed less than 100 mg of caffeine daily or the equivalent of drinking a single espresso, whereas 11.2 percent drank more than 400 mg daily or the equivalent of four espressos.

Teens usually get most of their caffeine from soft drinks and energy drinks. Caffeine is not stored in the body, but you may feel its effects for up to six hours. It is thought to be safe in moderate amounts. Experts consider 200 to 300 mg of caffeine a day to be a moderate amount for adults. But consuming as little as 100 mg of caffeine a day can lead a person to become "dependent" on caffeine. This means that someone may develop withdrawal symptoms (like tiredness, irritability, and headaches) if he or she quits caffeine suddenly.

While caffeine doesn't stunt one's growth, as one myth suggests, it is an addictive drug that can have lasting effects. Teens should try to limit caffeine consumption to no more than 100 mg of caffeine daily, and kids should get even less.


■Kids Health
■National Soft Drink Association: Caffeine Content of Popular Drinks
■Soda Pop Information from the Center for Science in the Public Interest
■Science Daily

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