· By Julia Boase

Caffeine Chronicles - What Parents of kids Need to Know!

As parents, we often find ourselves navigating the maze of questions that our growing children throw our way. One common curiosity that tweens and teens tend to develop is about caffeine, which they often encounter through coffee or energy drinks. With Australia's strong coffee culture and caffeine-rich beverages becoming more prevalent, it's natural for our older kids to become interested in caffeine. But is it safe for kids, and and at what age and how much?

Let's start by understanding what caffeine actually is.

Caffeine is a stimulant naturally present in various foods and beverages, including coffee, tea, chocolate (cocoa), cola, and guarana. Additionally, it's added to some products like energy drinks, such as Mountain Dew Energise, Red Bull, and Prime Energy. Caffeine works by blocking an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine, resulting in increased brain activity and the release of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine. This leads to reduced tiredness, increased alertness, improved mood, enhanced cognition, and quicker reaction times.

In adults, coffee has been the most extensively studied form of caffeine consumption. Numerous high-quality research studies suggest that moderate coffee intake, typically 2-4 cups a day, is associated with positive health benefits. These include a reduced risk of conditions such as diabetes, certain cancers (such as liver and endometrial cancer), and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease. It's important to note that many of these effects may be attributed to the phytonutrients present in coffee, not just the caffeine itself. Caffeine has also been incorporated into sports supplements and can enhance athletic performance by improving endurance.

However, it's essential to be aware of the potential downsides of caffeine consumption in adults, such as increased heart rate, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and digestive issues. Pregnant women are advised not to exceed 200mg of caffeine per day, equivalent to about two cups of coffee, due to potential links to miscarriage.

Now, let's delve into the topic of caffeine and children.

Studies conducted in Australia* have shown that caffeine consumption occurs across all age groups of children. Most commonly, it comes from caffeinated beverages, and consumption tends to increase with age. Surprisingly, many caffeinated beverages are consumed at home, particularly on non-school days and during the evening hours, possibly due to the habit of enjoying carbonated caffeinated beverages like Coca-Cola with dinner.

The concerns associated with caffeine consumption in children can be summarised as follows:

1. **Increased Anxiety:** Children are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and may experience jitteriness, nervousness, and racing thoughts.

2. **Sleep Disturbances:** Due to their smaller body size, children can be more susceptible to the side effects of caffeine, making it harder for them to fall asleep.

3. **Bone Health:** Caffeine and other compounds found in tea and coffee can inhibit calcium absorption. Regular consumption of these caffeinated beverages during crucial years of bone development may pose a problem.

4. **Displacement of Nutritious Foods:** Consuming milky beverages like coffee may decrease appetite for healthier snacks. High-sugar caffeinated drinks like Coca-Cola may lead to increased calorie consumption and a risk of weight gain, these high sugar beverages are also a risk for dental caries.

Unfortunately, there have been cases of teenagers experiencing severe health issues, including death, due to excessive caffeine consumption. Caffeine increases heart rate, and excessive intake over a short period can lead to cardiac arrhythmias. Although rare, the risk is greater for teenagers who may have an undiagnosed underlying heart condition.

**FSANZ Recommendations for Children Under 18 Years**

For children under the age of 18, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has made the following recommendations for safe caffeine consumption based on available research: no more than 3mg/kg/day. For kids aged 9-13 years, this roughly equates to about 2 cans of soft drink or one espresso-style coffee per day (adhering to this limit will reduce the symptoms mentioned above).

 All things considered I wouldn't advise introducing your younger children to caffeine, but the occasional sip or a very milky coffee can be enjoyed without harm. For curious teenagers, it's essential to educate them about the potential risks associated with caffeine consumption and where caffeine can be found, especially in energy drinks that resemble regular soft drinks, such as Mountain Dew Energise and Sprite Plus.

Last week, I had a firsthand reminder of how easily teens can consume caffeine without realising it. My 13-year-old came home with a 1.25L bottle of Mountain Dew Energise after a day out with friends. Mountain Dew energise has 15mg of caffeine per 100g, that’s 187mg for the whole 1.25L bottle, which I’m sure many teens could happily down. That’s roughly equivalent to two coffees. For teens who have increasing independence away from home it’s easy for them to consume caffeinated soft drinks, coffee and energy drinks without realising the full extent of the caffeine they’ve ingested.

Finally I couldn't write about caffeine without mentioning that Prime Energy, a caffeinated energy drink popular with teens, has recently returned to some parts of Australia after being banned for exceeding caffeine limits set by FSANZ. While it has been reformulated to comply with guidelines, it still contains a substantial amount of caffeine (30.9mg per 100ml), and I would encourage teens to stay away from it, or at the very least educate them to stick to one per day and avoid all other sources of caffeine that day. You can read more about Prime here.

It's vital as parents to stay informed about caffeine and guide our children towards responsible choices, helping them understand the potential consequences of excessive caffeine consumption. With knowledge and open communication, we can empower our children to make healthier decisions as they navigate the world of caffeine.


Caffeine content

Coffee - milky espresso style, eg latte

80 - 100 mg

Instant coffee


Iced Coffee (500ml)


Coca Cola (375ml can)


Hot chocolate (250ml cup)

5 - 10 mg

Prime Energy (new formulation) 355ml can

109 mg

Red Bull (250ml can)

80 mg

Milk chocolate 60g

5 - 15mg

Caffeinated spots gel (1 tube)

50mg but varies from brand to brand


*Beckford K, Grimes CA, Riddell LJ. Australian children's consumption of caffeinated, formulated beverages: a cross-sectional analysis. BMC Public Health. 2015 Jan 31;15:70. doi: 10.1186/s12889-015-1443-9. PMID: 25636490; PMCID: PMC4314765.


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