Caffeinated Cola May Make Kids Hyperactive

If your youngster is sassy, squirmy, or just plan hyperactive, caffeinated cola drinks could be to blame, a new study suggests.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on May 23, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

May 23, 2005 (Atlanta) -- If your youngster is sassy, squirmy, or just plan hyperactive, caffeinated cola drinks could be to blame, a new study suggests.

"As little as three-fourths of a can of caffeinated soda makes kids act out," says researcher Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.

"First-graders manifested behavioral problems when presented with caffeinated cola, suggesting that consumption of this should be minimized," concludes the study.

Reporting at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Hirsch says he studied 20 first-graders, half of whom were offered caffeinated cola and half of whom got caffeine-free cola.

They all started out with a 2 ounce cup and were given 10 dimes so they could buy additional 1 ounce refills as desired, up to a maximum of 12 ounces.

Afterward the teachers filled out a standardized test that measures hyperactivity. Among the questions: is the child restless in the "squirmy" sense, does the child act impudent and sassy, and does the child make excessive demands for the teacher's attention?

A week later the whole thing was repeated, except the kids who originally drank caffeinated cola were given noncaffeinated soda and vice versa.

On the day the kids drank caffeinated soda their average score on the hyperactivity test was nearly five points higher than on the day they drank noncaffeinated soda, the study shows.

Significantly more students had an increase in activity scores in response to caffeinated colas (60%) than a decrease (12%) in scores.

Even after the researchers took into account the effect of sugar on behavior, a strong link between caffeine and hyperactivity remained, Hirsch says. The increase in activity seen after drinking caffeinated colas remained even after taking into account the number of ounces consumed.

Making matters worse, the kids seemed to prefer the caffeinated beverages, drinking an average of 9.45 ounces in a sitting compared with 7.55 ounces for caffeine-free cola.

Lessons for Parents

There are a number of lessons for parents, Hirsch tells WebMD. First and most obvious, "giving your young schoolchildren caffeinated soda is not a good idea," he says.

"Remember, even if you don't let your own kids drink soda, other kids do. And they'll become hyperactive and disruptive to the whole class," Hirsch cautions.

It's a huge problem when you consider the average American drinks 585 12-ounce cans a year, he says.

George Athey, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist in Colorado Springs, Colo., says the findings match what he observes in his private practice.

"I see hundreds of kids and the younger ones don't do well on caffeine," he tells WebMD. "The new findings support recommendations to tell our children to lay off the caffeine."

David Fassler, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont in Burlington, agrees, noting that previous studies have shown that too much caffeine can also cause nervousness, tummy aches, and trouble concentrating.

If your child is acting out, make sure the doctor knows what he or she is drinking and eating, Fassler advises. Caffeine is found in all sorts of foods, from chocolate candy bars to iced tea.

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SOURCES: American Psychiatric Association 2005 Annual Meeting, Atlanta, May 21-26, 2005. Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director, Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Chicago. George Athey, MD, PhD, psychiatrist, Colorado Springs, Colo.

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