Caffeine Kids: Is There Too Much in Your Kid’s Diet?

caffeine kidsReviewed by Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN and updated December, 2019

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, on a given day in this country, 73% of kids are exposed to caffeine. So, if your kids are coming across as a bit too “energized,” it might be time to investigate how much caffeine is getting into your kids! Caffeine and similar chemically structured compounds are hidden in many common foods eaten by kids. While Johnny may not be drinking Starbucks in the morning, there are lots of opportunities for kids to get caffeine-like stimulants into their bodies. Caffeine, and another similar dietary compound called theobromine, are commonly found in foods we unwittingly give our kids. In the past, soda was a consistent source of caffeine in kids’ diets. Now, more common sources are energy drinks and even coffee products that are being eaten by kids.

Health implications of too much stimulant

Too much caffeine or theobromine can have negative health consequences for adults and kids alike. In both adults and kids, too much caffeine can cause:

  • an upset stomach and diarrhea
  • headaches
  • nervousness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • trouble sleeping
  • elevated blood pressure
  • faster heart rate
  • dehydration

Upper limit of caffeine for kids

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not set guidelines for safe limits of caffeine in children (for adults, the FDA cited a limit of 400 mg as safe). The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of caffeine and other stimulants in any amount. The Canadian government, however, has made some set daily limits for caffeine exposure in children. These guidelines are helpful and noted below:

  • 45 mg for kids aged 4-6
  • 62 mg for kids aged 7-9
  • 85 mg for 10-12 year olds
  • Ages 13 and older: limit caffeine to 2.5 mg/kg body weight (Ex.- a 120 pound adolescent should not exceed 136 mg)

Sources of dietary stimulants

caffeine kids

Beverages as a source of caffeine for kids 

Lemonade, bottled teas, non-cola soda, vitamin water, hot cocoa, chocolate milkshakes, and energy smoothies can all contribute varying amounts of caffeine-like stimulants. Because these beverages may be hidden sources of caffeine or other stimulants, read any available labels of all beverages you provide to your child and teen. As a bench mark comparison, keep in mind that a standard cup of drip coffee (8-10 oz.) has about 150 mg. of caffeine. But, if you are a lover of 16 oz. servings of Starbucks, you could be drinking as much as 360 mg for some popular brews. 14 oz. of Dunkin Donuts clocks in at 210 mg.

  • 12 oz. of Coke Zero, Classic Coca Cola, Diet or Regular Dr. Pepper, Sunkist Orange Soda has about 30-45 mg
  • 12 oz. Barq’s Root Beer has 22 mg
  • 12 oz. of Diet or Regular Mountain Dew has 54 mg
  • 8 oz. Arizona Iced Tea, black has 15 mg
  • 8 oz. white or green tea (generic) has about 15 mg-25 mg
  • 8 oz. Starbucks hot chocolate has 12 mg
  • 8 oz. Snapple Lemon Tea has 18 mg
  • 10 oz. Vitaminwater Energy Tropical Citrus has 25 mg

Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest Caffeine Chart (recalculated from this data for some portions noted).

Energy drinks and caffeine use for older kids

Most energy drinks that older kids would be using have between 80 to 300 mg of caffeine per serving. In addition to the caffeine content of these drinks, they are often loaded with calories derived from sugar. Some energy drinks also have inappropriate amounts of B vitamins along with herbs that offer no health benefit. Popular energy drinks with caffeine content include:

  • 5-hour energy (2 oz.) has 200 mg
  • Bang energy (16 oz.) has 300 mg
  • Monster Energy (16 oz.) has 160 mg
  • Rockstar Energy (16 oz.) has 160 mg
  • NOS Energy (16 oz.) has 160 mg
  • AMP Zero Energy (16 oz.) has 157 mg
  • Red Bull (8.4 oz.) has 80 mg
  • MIO Energy, all flavors have 60 mg per 1/2 tsp.

Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest Caffeine Chart (recalculated from this data for some portions noted).

Food sources of caffeine and theobromine

caffeine kids and sources of caffeine

Foods may contain either caffeine or the caffeine-like stimulant theobromine. Chocolate flavored cereals, desserts, ice cream, and candy may have theobromine. Coffee ice cream and yogurt could contain varying amounts of actual caffeine and should be discouraged for children.

  • A 6 oz.  serving of Dannon Lowfat Coffee Yogurt contains a whopping 30 mg of caffeine
  • Starbucks Coffee Ice Cream has 50-60 mg of caffeine per one cup serving
  • 4 oz. Haggen-Daz Coffee Ice Cream has 20 mg
  • Chocolate flavored hazel nut spread (1 Tbsp) has 3 mg

Moving on to candy and other treats, here are some favorites along with the caffeine content:

  • 1 oz. dark chocolate (60-69% cacao solids) has 24 mg
  • 1 oz. Nestle Crunch bar has 13 mg
  • 3 Musketeers Bar (2.13 oz.) has 4 mg
  • 5th Avenue Candy Bar (2 oz.) has 3 mg
  • Mounds Candy Bar (1 bar, snack size) has 3 mg
  • 4 oz. serving chocolate pudding has 2 mg

You won’t typically find the actual caffeine content of these foods listed on any Nutrition Fact Panel, so all you can do is be aware of the potential foods containing caffeine or theobromine.

Source: USDA Nutrient Data Base (2018)

Medications as source of caffeine for kids

Certain adult medications may contain caffeine which speeds pain relief. Examples of non-prescription pain relievers containing caffeine include Excedrin and Anacin. Parents should obviously avoid these medications and choose medications that are caffeine-free. Another medication an adolescent female might take which does contain caffeine is Midol for relieving menstrual cramps.

  • Excedrin Migraine, 2 tablets have 130 mg
  • Anacin, 2 tablets have 64 mg
  • Midol  Complete, 2 tablets have 64 mg

Take Away

Anything that goes in your child or teen’s mouth should be evaluated for stimulants. For kids, beverages such as colas, root beer, and even lemonade can be a hidden source of caffeine. Clearly, energy drinks are a source of caffeine for adolescents, and parents should be mindful of how much their teens might be drinking. Chocolate and coffee flavored foods are also sources of stimulants. For medications, be sure to check the labels and avoid medications with caffeine unless prescribed by a physician. While a little caffeine will not harm your child, if your kid is bouncing off the walls or having trouble sleeping and concentrating, it’s wise to assess if he or she is consuming too much “hidden” caffeine.

Thoughts on how else caffeine gets into our kids’ diets?

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Sue Rose

Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN is a dietitian/nutritionist that has been practicing for decades. She has had a private practice for over 30 years and worked in numerous and varied settings as a clinical nutritionist and consultant. She has also taught nutrition at the college level for almost a decade. Her blogs cover nutrition for wellness and disease, as well as lifestyle. Her goal is to provide current nutrition content for educational and informational purposes that the public finds beneficial.
Sue Rose

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