What parents need to know about caffeine consumption by adolescents

What parents need to know about caffeine consumption by adolescents

My local Starbucks is often full of teens. With finals around the corner, it's not unusual to see high schoolers with energy drinks in their hands. Caffeine usage by adolescents has more than doubled since 1980, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Caffeine is cool in the eyes of adolescents, and while they may think it is harmless, it's not. Last month, it tragically proved deadly.

Davis Cripe, a 16-year-old high schooler in South Carolina, collapsed in his classroom and died last month. Yesterday, the coroner announced that he died from a heart arrhythmia triggered by a caffeine overdose. (You can read the news story here.) In the two hours prior to his death, he consumed a large Diet Mountain Dew, a cafe latte from McDonalds, and an energy drink. Those drinks likely totaled over 600 mg of caffeine.

"The purpose here today is not to slam Mountain Dew, not to slam cafe lattes, or energy drinks. But what we want to do is to make people understand that these drinks — this amount of caffeine, how it's ingested, can have dire consequences. And that's what happened in this case," Richland County coroner Gary Watts said.

Sean Cripe, Davis' grieving dad, pleaded, "Parents, please talk to your kids about these energy drinks."

While caffeine-related deaths are rare, that's little comfort to Davis', of course. What parents need to know about caffeine consumption by adolescents is that it is not harmless.

The Centers for Disease Control says caffeine can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing as well as have a harmful effect on the nervous system.

Energy drinks resulted in more than 20,000 emergency room visits in 2011, according to federal data, and more than 10 percent of emergency room visits by people age 12 or older resulting in hospitalization.

"On its own, moderate amounts of caffeine rarely cause harmful long-term health effects, although it is definitely possible to take too much caffeine and get sick as a result," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, which addresses that issue because caffeine, a stimulant, is a drug.

Caffeine consumption by adolescents is also known to be correlated with increased risk for illicit drug use and substance use disorders, as noted in a recent editorial in Addiction.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that adolescents consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day. That's the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee. A typical energy drink has 160 mg. And the AAP recommends that adolescents do not consume energy drinks.

In an article in Live Science, Dr. Sanjay Mehta advises parents:

With older kids, you've got to be realistic — they will probably have some caffeine — but pay attention and supervise them. Watch what you keep in the house. Even bottled iced tea and some over-the-counter medications have a good deal of caffeine.

Admittedly, adults and kids have varying levels of sensitivity to caffeine, which can linger in the body for four to six hours. Know that weight, medications and overall health can play a role in how caffeine affects you; even though you can drink two cups of coffee in the morning doesn't mean your teenager can — or should.

Talk with kids about getting more sleep, as caffeine can lead to insomnia and make it harder to get better rested. That sleep interference also negatively impact learning and development.

Cover other ways to increase alertness, including exercise and staying hydrated.

Encourage tween and teens to be aware of what they're consuming. They can get an idea of how much caffeine is in their drinks and food with this chart from the Center for Science and the Public Interest. (Also, the Starbucks app makes it easy.)

If Starbucks or coffee shops are favorite hang outs, work with your kids to pick out some options with no caffeine or less caffeine. For example, the Starbucks website says a grande strawberry acai refresher has between 45-55 mg of caffeine, a grande Shaken Iced Green Tea Lemonade has 25-30 mg and a Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuccino has none.

Also, did you know that there is such a thing as powdered caffeine? Urge teens to stay far, far away from it. The FDA issued a safety advisory about caffeine powders following the overdose death of an Ohio teen.

Talk with kids about the dangers of caffeine and remind them that too much of a good thing can be dangerous. As with so many things in life, moderation is key.

Prior Post: PSA for parents: Talk to your kids about sharing images of you online

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What parents need to know about caffeine consumption by tweens and teens



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