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What About Energy Drinks for Kids?

As some schools ban colas from vending machines, ads are hyping a source of even more caffeine: energy drinks.

The pitch: These drinks can aid both mental and physical performance.

In reasonable amounts, caffeine isn't harmful for children, but some experts suggest that kids not go overboard on caffeinated drinks.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not restrict caffeine in energy drinks, but it limits caffeine in cola to about 5.4 mg per ounce. Most cola contains far less. Energy drinks, however, often contain more. A 2006 study in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology found that an 8-ounce serving of many energy drinks has more than twice the caffeine of a 12-ounce can of caffeinated cola. Twelve ounces of Jolt, an energy drink, contains 71 mg of caffeine; a Diet Coke as 45 mg of caffeine.

The FDA and other federal agencies do not have guidelines on caffeine and children. Canada, however, recommends that preschool children get no more than 45 mg of caffeine a day.

Caffeine is a stimulant found naturally in plants, but manufacturers also add it to certain foods. It is found not only in colas, but also in tea, coffee, chocolate and some chocolate-flavored foods. In low doses, caffeine increases alertness. At higher levels, both adults and children can experience these effects:

  • Nervousness or agitation

  • Increased stomach acid or a feeling of upset stomach

  • Headache

  • Sleep problems

  • Faster heart rate

Most children get their caffeine from soft drinks. A bigger concern about these beverages is their effect on weight: A child who has one sweetened soda a day boosts his or her risk for obesity by 60 percent. A typical 12-ounce can contains 150 calories but no nutrients. Children and teens who drink sweetened beverages are less likely to consume enough milk with its bone-strengthening calcium. A steady diet of sweetened drinks also increases the risk for tooth decay.