A viral TikTok video shared by a Starbucks barista in early March revealed that workers fulfill Starbucks Refresher orders that parents place for their kids despite knowing the beverage contains caffeine.
The video has gone on to spark conversation about just how much caffeine kids and teens can have or whether they should be drinking caffeinated beverages at all.
Kelly Johnson-Arbor, of Falls Church, Virginia, a medical toxicology physician and medical director at the National Capital Poison Center, told Fox News Digital that parents and the public should be concerned about the amount of caffeine minors are consuming.
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“My kids are 10 and 12 years old, and are telling me that their friends at school bring in drinks that contain caffeine to drink,” Johnson-Arbor said. “This is a significant public health concern.”
Johnson-Arbor acknowledged that most health professionals recommend parents steer their children away from caffeine because there’s “limited data surrounding the effects of caffeine” on minors.
“Since children’s brains are still developing, stimulant drugs like caffeine have the potential to have undesirable effects on brain development and behavior,” Johnson-Arbor explained. “After six months of age, children are able to metabolize caffeine as effectively as adults, but the results of some studies suggest that caffeine is associated with adverse effects in children, including headaches, sleep disturbances and changes in blood pressure.”
A consumer-focused report published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that “healthy adults” can have up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is equivalent to about four or five cups of coffee.
Minors, on the other hand, shouldn’t consume as many milligrams as adults, according to guidance from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).
In fact, the AACAP encourages complete caffeine avoidance for minors under the age of 12 because “there is no proven safe dose of caffeine for children.”
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Minors from ages 12 to 17 and legal adults who reach 18 can consume 100 milligrams of caffeine “at most,” which is equivalent to about two 12-ounce cans of cola, according to the AACAP.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has gone as far as to say that stimulants like caffeine “have no place in the diet of children and adolescents,” as noted in an energy drinks report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What is green coffee extract?
Starbucks Refreshers are made with fruit juices and green coffee extract, and they’re available in four sizes – tall (12 ounces), grande (16 ounces), venti (24 ounces) and trenta (31 ounces).
A beverage nutrition document published by the coffee chain approximates that Starbucks Refreshers can contain anywhere from 35 milligrams to 110 milligrams, depending on the size chosen.
Competitors of Starbucks, such as Dunkin’ and Panera Bread, have caffeinated juice drinks as well.
Dunkin’ Refreshers are made with green tea and fruit juices, but the chain doesn’t disclose approximate caffeine amount because “caffeine values can vary greatly based on the variety of coffee/tea and the brewing equipment/steeping method used,” the coffee and donut chain notes on its website.
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At Panera, the fast-casual bakery-café’s Charged Lemonade line, made headlines in 2022 after consumers realized they’d been drinking a beverage that contains hundreds of milligrams of caffeine and turned to social media to discuss the caffeinated lemonade’s effects on their bodies.
What is guarana?
Panera’s website discloses that a regular-sized Charged Lemonade (20 ounces) contains around 260 milligrams of caffeine while a large-sized Charged Lemonade (30 ounces) contains around 390 milligrams of caffeine.
The high amounts of caffeine are reportedly sourced from guarana – a plant commonly grown in Brazil – and green coffee extract.
Fox News Digital reached out to Starbucks, Dunkin’ and Panera for comment.
While the AACAP recommends consumers under the age of 12 not have caffeine and consumers between the ages of 12 and 18 have a limited amount of caffeine, the mental health association acknowledges that “caffeine can be found naturally in some plant-based foods and drinks.”
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Caffeine is found in most sodas, coffees, teas and chocolates. Food and beverage manufacturers also sometimes add caffeine to prepackaged snacks and candies.
“Parents should read labels carefully and limit their children’s consumption of caffeinated drinks,” Danny Dorsey, of Menifee, California, the CEO at Everlast Recovery Centers, told Fox News Digital.
Dorsey said parents should encourage their children to healthier alternatives such as water, milk and 100% fruit juice.
“Caffeine can lead to dehydration, which can be particularly dangerous during physical activity or hot weather,” he continued. “Educating children on the potential risks of caffeine consumption can also help them make healthier choices.”
Dr. Beth Oller, a family physician from Stockton, Kansas, who specializes in pediatrics, agrees that children under 12 shouldn’t have caffeine while children 12 and up shouldn’t exceed the AACAP’s 100-milligram recommendation.
“It is important to remember that as children are so small it takes much less caffeine to cause adverse effects,” Oller told Fox News Digital. “Caffeine has no nutritional value but can have many side effects, so just keep kids away entirely.”
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For caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea, Oller noted that added sugar can have an extra “detrimental” effect, including potential weight gain and tooth cavities.
“The decision on whether or not minors should be allowed to drink coffee or tea is going to be one that should be made between parents and their family physician,” Oller said. “Some children may have medical conditions, for example, that make caffeine use riskier, or be on medications that would make caffeine intake dangerous.”
Shayna Melissa Stockman, a registered nurse from Medford, New York, told Fox News Digital that parents should consider limiting the quantity of how much caffeine their child has if complete avoidance isn’t feasible.
This can be done by pouring caffeinated drinks into smaller cups, lightly steeping tea or imposing a daily cup limit.
“Many parents give their children soda that’s loaded with caffeine and sugar. I don’t advise this.” Stockman said. “Coffee and tea may be better options if they do not have artificial colors, sweeteners or preservatives. Moderation is key.”
She continued, “People need to realize that many specialty coffees [teas, and juices] are loaded with carbs and artificial flavors.”
Stockman warned that high amounts of caffeine should never be consumed while exercising because it increases heart rate.
Lori Walker, of California, a registered dietitian and nutrition writer, told Fox News Digital that caffeine consumption for minors and legal adults should be tailored to age and body weight.
“Generally, no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine per day is recommended for adolescents aged 10 to 12 while those aged 13 to 18 can safely consume up to 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day,” Walker said.
A kilogram is equivalent to approximately 2.2 pounds.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is a government agency that provides independent scientific advice for residents of the European Union, recognizes the suggested 2.5 milligrams of caffeine amount as a “recommended maximum daily intake of caffeine” for children.
The AACAP and AAP, which are the largest professional associations of childhood psychiatrists and pediatricians in the U.S., don’t recognize the caffeine milligram-to-weight ratio the EFSA upholds.
Still, consuming excess caffeine has a list of negative side effects that parents should know and consider before they decide on whether their children can have caffeinated drinks.
Reda Elmardi, a registered dietitian and certified from Bronx, New York, who manages the fitness website The Gym Goat, told Fox News Digital that high amounts of caffeine can cause blood pressure rises, respiration rate increases, anxiety, fatigue and other forms of mental health strain.
Laura Simmons, of Seattle, Washington, who’s a registered dietitian and healthcare specialist at RET Physical Therapy, noted that other less-than-stellar side effects of excess caffeine consumption include nervousness, irritability, frequent urination, increased heartbeat and muscle tremors.
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