Educating children about the levels of caffeine in various energy drinks, sodas and coffee at a young age could help curb consumption, experts said today.
School-age children are the fastest-growing population of caffeine users with more than eight in 10 regularly drinking drinks high in stimulant.
Furthermore, more than one in 10 (11.had at least one a day, and fewer than one in 20 had never touched one.
Caffeine is the most available and widely-used psychoactive substance in the world, and is the only drug legally accessible and socially acceptable for children and teenagers to take.
Eight in 10 school children regularly drink energy drinks, sodas and other drinks high in caffeine. Among the drinks with the highest amount of the stimulant are energy drinks, such as Red Bull, left, which has 80mg of caffeine, and sodas including Pepsi, right, with 38mg of the stimulant
But what is the recommended intake?
In the UK, the Food Standards Agency advises children should only consume caffeine in moderation while pregnant and breastfeeding women should not have more than 200mg of caffeine during the day – roughly two mugs of instant coffee, or one filter coffee.
The Mayo Clinic, in Michigan, advises adults limit themselves to no more than 400mg of caffeine a day – the equivalent of four cups of coffee or two energy drinks.
Experts add that while it is safe of adults, caffeine is not safe for children.
Children and adolescents should limit themselves to no more than 100mg a day
A can of Coca-Cola has 32mg, a can of Diet Coke 42mg, a can of Red Bull 80mg but other energy drinks can contain as much as 500mg.
One of the most common reasons given by the teenagers who drink caffeine, was the perceived alertness the drink would give them helping with their school work.
While a little caffeine now and then probably won’t harm a teen’s health, consistent use could have negative consequences, experts warned.
Too much can prevent young people from getting the sleep and nutrients they need for healthy physical development.
Caffeine over-consumption and caffeine intoxication have serious health effects even in moderate doses
Food and nutrition professor Dr Danielle Battram
And although small amounts of caffeine can sharpen mental focus, too much can have the opposite effect making them jittery and scatty.
Instead they should be offered alternatives to caffeine to increase energy – including eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep.
Food and nutrition professor Dr Danielle Battram said: ‘Caffeine over-consumption and caffeine intoxication have serious health effects even in moderate doses.
‘With that in mind we need to correct the misconceptions adolescents have regarding certain aspects of caffeine.
‘By developing more comprehensive educational strategies and enhancing policies it may be possible to decrease caffeine use in adolescents and mitigate the potential health risks.’
The Brescia University College in Ontario study of 166 youths – most aged 15 or 16 – found nearly half (44.6 per cent) drank caffeinated beverages one to six times each week.
Yet the number of adolescents aware of the negative health effects of caffeine was generally high.
The study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior showed the teenagers perceived drinking the freely available beverages as a sign of being grown up.
A can of Coca Cola contains around 32mg of caffeine, while the lower calorie Diet Coke has 42mg
A regular 12oz (33ml) can of Dr Pepper contains 42 mg of caffeine, compared with a single shot espresso or regular americano with 77mg. Experts are calling for children to be taught about the dangers of drinking too much caffeine, which include preventing young people from getting the sleep and nutrients they need for healthy physical development
What their parents drank, media and advertising, and social norms also contributed to how much they drink.
Yet caffeine can decrease a child’s ability to perform tasks involving delicate muscular coordination, arithmetic skills or accurate timing.
Children under 12 are generally recommended to avoid caffeine or to limit its intake.
Caffeine is absorbed very quickly into the body and then passes into the central nervous system.
In low doses caffeine can affect the body causing decreased appetite, increased urination, hyperactive behaviour and difficulty sleeping.
More toxic effects such as nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, twitching and agitation may occur when a child consumes more than 4.5 mg of caffeine per pound of body weight.
Severe caffeine toxicity can lead to fits, an increased heart rate and an irregular heart beat or palpitations.