Caffeine is common in kids, young adults

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CHICAGO -- Nearly 3 in 4 U.S. children and young adults consume at least some caffeine, mostly from soda, tea and coffee. The rate didn't budge much over a decade, although soda use declined and energy drinks became an increasingly common source, a government analysis finds.

Though even most preschoolers consume some caffeine-containing products, their average was the amount found in half a can of soda, and overall caffeine intake declined in children up to age 11 during the decade.

The analysis is the first to examine recent national trends in caffeine intake among children and young adults and comes amid a U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation into the safety of caffeine-containing foods and drinks, especially for children and teens. In an online announcement about the investigation, the FDA notes that caffeine is found in a variety of foods, gum and even some jelly beans and marshmallows.

The probe is partly in response to reports about hospitalizations and even several deaths after consuming highly caffeinated drinks or energy shots. The drinks have not proved to be a cause in those cases.

The new analysis, by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that energy drinks were an uncommon source of caffeine for most U.S. youth, at least through 2010.

The results were published online today in the journal Pediatrics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against caffeine consumption for children and teens because of potentially harmful effects from the mild stimulant, including increases in heart rate and blood pressure, and worsening anxiety in those with anxiety disorders.

Stephen Daniels, chairman of the academy's nutrition committee, said caffeine has no nutritional value and there's no good data on what might be a safe amount for kids.

Evidence that even very young children may regularly consume caffeine products raises concerns about possible long-term health effects, so parents should try to limit their kids' intake, said Dr. Daniels, head of pediatrics at the University of Colorado's medical school.

The authors analyzed national health surveys from 1999 through 2010, involving 22,000 subjects from age 2 to 22. The children or their parents answered questions about what they ate or drank the previous day, a common method researchers use to assess Americans' diets.

In 2010, 10 percent of daily caffeine came from energy drinks for 19- to 22-year-olds; 2 percent for 17- to 18-year-olds, and 3 percent for 12- to 16-year-olds. For younger kids, the amount from energy drinks was mostly minimal or none during the study.

The average intake in the study was about 60 milligrams to 70 milligrams daily, the amount in a 6-ounce cup of coffee or two sodas, said lead author Amy Branum, a health statistician at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. For the youngest kids it was much less than that.

Soda was the most common source of caffeine throughout the study for older children and teens; for those up to age 5, it was the second most common after tea. Soda intake declined for all ages as many schools stopped selling sugary soft drinks because of obesity concerns.


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