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Caffeine and Kids… The Ultimate Gateway Drug

Hey kids, say NO to drugs! Unless, or course, that drug comes in a brightly colored can that can be legally purchased at every store in the nation.  In that case, about 75% of our youth age 5-12 years old are saying “yes” to the most widely used stimulant in the world, caffeine. While moderate caffeine intake (less than 300 mgs/day) has generally been considered “safe” for adult populations, very little research is available on the affects of caffeine in children.  This is alarming considering the above statistic in addition to the fact that children age 12-17 are the fastest growing segment of the population using caffeine on a daily basis.  Should we as adults be concerned?  Should we intervene?  Read on to discover the answer to these, as well as other rhetorical questions.

Caffeine affects the body by being absorbed directly through the stomach lining.  At the brain it binds to receptors that usually bind to a chemical that calms you down.  This interference sets off an alarm in the body.  Appropriately enough, this alarm is the same one that sounds off if you are actually being chased by a red bull.  Adrenaline is released, your heart beats faster, extra sugar is released into the blood from the liver, and your kidneys get rid of extra water.  Add in a few “feel good” chemicals that are released to numb the pain your body thinks it may incur if the bull catches you, and who-la,  you’re ready for your drive to work.  The body learns to depend on this process so when you don’t have your caffeine, you experience withdrawal effects such as irritability and headache.  The above is true whether you’re 6 or 66.

When reviewing the relatively “scant” research on the affects of frequent caffeine intake in youth, it can be concluded that there are far more negative findings that positive ones.  These findings include:

  • A negative correlation between caffeine ingestion and sleep (More caffeine, less sleep)
  • A negative correlation between prolonged caffeine use and bone density (More caffeine, less bone density)
  • A positive correlation between daytime “sleepiness” and caffeine ingestion (More caffeine consumption, less energy during the day)
  • A positive correlation between consumption of caffeine beverages and greater body mass index. (More caffeine consumption, fatter kids)
  • A positive correlation between caffeine cessation and withdrawal symptoms (Take away caffeine, get withdrawal symptoms)

No findings were available in favor of daily caffeine consumption for kids.

Aside from the direct physiological affects of caffeine as a drug, kids consume caffeine primarily through soft drinks that are high in sugar.  These drinks take the place of other nutritiously dense beverages like water, milk, and some fruit juices. This is thought to be one of primary factors behind the decrease in bone mass and increase in body mass index.

While the negative physiological affects of caffeine in youth are of concern, I believe these pale in comparison to the psychological effects as they relate to addiction and future drug use.  Caffeine is often a child’s first exposure to “I can take this to feel good.” They draw this conclusion as it is resonated daily in American culture.  Coffee wakes us up, alcohol puts us to bed.  We don’t use drugs though, not in this house!  When one establishes the process of “take THIS to feel THIS way” at a young age, how could it go anywhere good?  There is definitely a difference between having a coffee drink a couple times month as a treat and having a couple energy drinks every day.  It’s very dangerous to lose accountability for the way you feel.  If you don’t sleep, sit on your butt all day, eat like crap, and have an abysmal outlook on life, you SHOULD feel miserable.  Kids should figure this out naturally and learn to make changes accordingly.  We as adults have to mentor them.  By the way, “M” on the monster can doesn’t stand for “mentor.”

Caffeine is not evil.  Small amounts actually can have positive health effects on adults.  I take 120 mgs of caffeine every morning.  As an adult, however, I am able to evaluate caffeine’s affect on me.  I am aware of how much I take in and I don’t rely on it for energy throughout the day.  I understand that my energy is going to come from my lifestyle and mindset.  I am also able to make this association with my mood and any other available drug.  Alcohol can help me relax, but not as much as focusing on rationally dealing with my daily challenges and maintaining perspective.  Children are not capable of this.  They establish “take more of THIS, feel more of THIS way.”  Pretty soon they take something different to make them happy, sad, awake, asleep, focused, not focused, the list goes on.

The association between caffeine dependency at a young age and it’s affect on future drug use has not been effectively researched because of the alarmingly enormous amount of accepted and unregulated caffeine use in youth.  Researchers have found it difficult to draw a direct association when an overwhelming majority of youth takes in large amounts of caffeine daily. We must rely on behavioral logic and the current physiological findings to draw our conclusions about children and frequent caffeine ingestion.

While caffeine is not considered overtly dangerous, it can be concluded that the risks of varying severity outweigh any benefit of daily caffeine use in children.  We as parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors can help educate our children and lead them on a path of health and wellness.  In this way, we can create a future of happy, healthy, pain-free adults!

Coach Brett Klika is the Director of Athletic Performance at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance, overseeing a staff of 8 strength coaches developing programs for over 300 youth per week, both athletes and non-athletes. He presents around the world to both trainers and corporations with Todd Durkin Enterprises on a variety of health, wellness, and athletic performance topics. Brett contributes monthly to the award-winning “TD Times” newsletter.  If you would like to sign up, you can do so by visiting or

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