How Much Caffeine Should Kids and Teens Ingest? Interview with:
Naman Ahluwalia, PhD, DSc, FACN
Nutrition Monitoring Advisor
Office of the Director
Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, NCHS, CDC
Hyattsville, MD 20782

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Ahluwalia: Health Canada has put forth caffeine intake guidelines for children and adolescents in absolute amounts (mg) and in mg/kg body weight for teens. The maximal caffeine intakes of 45, 63, and 85 mg/day are suggested for children ages 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12 years and for teens (13 y and over) Health Canada suggests that caffeine intake be no more than 2.5 mg/kg body weight/day. Although no such recommendations have been set in the US, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) underlines that “caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children.”

This study provides national estimates of dietary caffeine intake in US children 2-19 y of age, both in absolute amounts (mg) and in relation to body weight (mg/kg), to update estimates that were published in another study in 2005 based on older data from the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by individuals in 1994-96 and 1998.

The key findings were:

1. Majority (71%) of children in the survey reported consuming caffeine on a given day; over one-half of US children aged 2-5 y and 3 in 4 children ages 6 y and over consumed caffeine on a given day.

2. Certain socio-demographic patterns in caffeine intake were observed. More non-Hispanic white and Mexican American children reported consuming caffeine than non-Hispanic black children; in addition, the amount of caffeine consumed by non-Hispanic white and Mexican American children was higher than that consumed by non-Hispanic black children. Caffeine intake increased with age. For instance, 2-5 year-old caffeine consumers reported 5 mg of caffeine intake on a given day, compared to 9 mg for 6-11 y olds and ~ 40 mg for teens (12-19 y). For reference, a 8 fl oz can of soda contains about 24-50 mg of caffeine.

3. Another finding was that on a given day one in ten children (6-19 y) had caffeine intakes that exceeded the Canadian maximal guidelines.

4. Caffeine intake (mg or mg/kg) stayed relatively constant among teens over the last decade, but trends towards decreased intake were noted in younger (2-11 y old) children.

Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Ahluwalia: The common prevailing thought is that caffeine intake particularly in teens may be high and that it is likely to have increased over the last decade; our results did not support these.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Ahluwalia: Although caffeine intake in younger children is small, a large percentage of children do consume caffeine and this does not fit well with the AAP. About one in ten children 6 y of age and above reported intakes that exceeded the Canadian maximal guidelines; thus clinicians and health care-providers should stay vigilant to follow children closely regarding their caffeine consumption, so as to identify children that may be “heavy consumers” of caffeine and provide appropriate counselling on potential adverse effects.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Ahluwalia: Dietary sources of caffeine intake among children should be examined more closely, and analysis of newer data from NHANES this year should be undertaken particularly among older children who were the highest consumers of caffeine. There is a need to continue monitoring caffeine intake (and sources) of children.


Caffeine intake in children in the United States and 10-y trends: 2001–2010
Namanjeet Ahluwalia, Kirsten Herrick, Alanna Moshfegh, and Michael Rybak

Am J Clin Nutr 2014 ajcn.082172; First published online August 27, 2014. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.082172

Last Updated on September 6, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD