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Staying alert to caffeine intake for kids

Parents are concerned that chocolate bars have caffeine

Parents are concerned that chocolate bars have caffeine in it, not good for kids. Photo Credit: iStock Credit: iStock

Q. I've been seeing chocolate bars and chewing gum marketed as having added caffeine. Is this harmful for children?

A. Wrigley voluntarily pulled its new caffeinated gum product off shelves temporarily in May after the Food and Drug Administration announced it would be investigating whether such products could be dangerous for children and teens.

But the Wrigley's product -- called Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, with each piece equivalent to half a cup of coffee -- isn't the only such gum, candy bar or snack food out there.

Common sense would indicate that parents of younger children aren't buying these products for their kids, says Suzette Smookler, administrator for clinical nutrition and education at Stony Brook University Medical Center. "Sugar plus caffeine in a little body -- it's something I would stay away from," she says.

Smookler is more concerned about middle and high school students, who have more autonomy in their spending. The cumulative effect in a day of having, say, a cup of coffee, a caffeinated candy bar and caffeinated gum can be detrimental, especially if the child is greatly affected by caffeine, Smookler says.

"The problem is, it's very individual," she says. Too much caffeine raises blood pressure temporarily, and, if a child has a cardiac issue, the caffeine could trigger a problem, she says.

Long-term caffeine abuse can lead to decreased bone density, she says. Smookler recommends parents discuss caffeine usage with their older children.

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