Caffeine is part of most parents’ keeping-up-with-the-kids toolkit, but they would never allow their children to consume it…would they? “Kids are getting a lot more caffeine than parents may realize,” says Greene. “Soda is the number three source of all calories in children’s diets—and they don’t just like it for the sugar, but need to keep consuming it when their energy levels fall.” Children also get a fair amount of caffeine from other beverages—like sports and energy drinks—as well as sweet treats like chocolate.
Should you worry? Yes. “Caffeine can affect your child’s ability to fall and stay asleep—which may then interfere with school performance, concentration and mood,” notes Natterson. A June 2011 clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also notes that caffeine has been linked to harmful health effects on children’s developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.
What can you do? The AAP advises against giving kids any caffeine-containing beverages, including soda (regular and diet), sports and energy drinks—because of the caffeine, as well as the increased risks for dental erosion and obesity. “Water is best, of course,” says Katz, “but nonfat or low-fat milk, small amounts of 100 percent fruit juice—no more than 6 ounces a day—and lightly flavored seltzers are fine, too.” Don’t forget to ration that stash of Halloween chocolate, as well.