Children urged to wake up to dangers of caffeine

Picture: PAPicture: PA
Picture: PA
Parents and teachers are being advised to make children aware of the health risks from drinking too much caffeine in cola, energy drinks and coffee.

According to a recent survey, more than 80 per cent of teenagers regularly drink high-caffeine drinks with one in 10 drinking at least one a day.

Caffeine is the most freely available and widely used psychoactive chemical in the world and is the only drug legally accessible and socially acceptable for children and teenagers to take.

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But even when consumed in moderate doses, the stimulant can have serious effects on health, including increased or irregular heartbeat, palpitations and sleep deprivation.

Caffeine can also decrease a child’s ability to perform tasks involving delicate muscular coordination, arithmetic skills or accurate timing.

The Food Standards Agency advise that 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 mug of filter coffee.

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.

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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.”

One of the most commonly reasons given by the teenagers was the perceived alertness the drink would give them helping with their school work.

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Whilst small amounts of caffeine can sharpen mental focus, too much can have the opposite effect, making youngsters jittery and scatty.

Health experts advise that children should be offered alternatives to caffeine to increase energy and alertness - including eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep.

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior showed that teenagers perceive consuming drinks laced with caffeine as a sign of being grown up.

What their parents drank, media and advertising, and social norms also contributed to how much they drink.