Caffeine and soft drinks are not benign, particularly for children and teens with the brain and bones still in the growth and development stage.
In recent decades, the greatest increase, some 70 percent, in caffeine use has been by children and teens. Caffeinated sodas are not just the ones that are brown in color such as Coke and Pepsi. Twelve ounces of Mountain Dew (a favorite of three and four-year-olds) has 54 mg of caffeine and a Sunkist Orange has 41 mg—both exceed the 35 mg in a 12 ounce Coke Classic.
Caffeine, a psychoactive drug that excites the central nervous system, is the most popular of all neuro-stimulants. Studies illustrate that consuming caffeine during periods of rapid brain development in the childhood and teen years can have long-lasting effects on brain function. Caffeine, by exciting the central nervous system, can act as a gateway to addictive drugs and other stimulants such as nicotine. The caffeine in soft drinks is also to be avoided because of its heavy pesticide load: it is the residual product from decaffeinating coffee, with coffee being the most heavily sprayed food/beverage commodity in the world.
Caffeine and sugar, as delivered in soft drinks, are self-reinforcing. Have you noticed how a donut or a piece of pie demands a cup of coffee? Children and adults prefer caffeinated to non-caffeinated beverages—from an early age, we teach our children to seek the “buzz” delivered by the combination of sugar and caffeine. Soft drinks not only disrupt sleep, but also make children more jittery, anxious, and impulsive, to say nothing of the implications for diabetes, obesity, and the health of bones and teeth.
Sugar activates the “natural reward” centers in the brain in a similar fashion to nicotine and cocaine. Caffeine in combination with sugar works to stimulate the release of dopamine, thus reinforcing the natural reward of consuming sugar in combination with caffeine. When we give caffeinated, sweetened soft drinks to children and teens in the years when the brain is developing rapidly, we program them to rely upon the psychoactive “lift” of caffeine and sugar.
Preliminary research suggests that soft drinks may be a gateway to substance abuse (more research on caffeine, sugar, and teens is now underway). What we do know already is that soft drinks pave the way in later years to diabetes and obesity. It is alarming that the typical American drinks more than 600 12-ounce servings a year (almost 2 cans per day), while the average male teenager daily consumes over one-half gallon of soft drinks.1
Think of giving your children water when they are thirsty and pack juicy fresh fruits for energy. My empirical experience when shopping suggests that water is actually more expensive than soft drinks—what does that tell us of the cheap ingredients in soft drinks and the efforts of soft drink companies to “lock us in” to a habit that can be debilitating? Soft drinks are not benign. When you and your children are on the go and thirsty, if you do not bring water from home, it is well worth the greater price to buy bottled water. Drinking water is a one of the best investments in long-term health.
Copyright 2011 Pathways4Health.org
- National Soft Drink Association [↩]