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June 2008 Issue

More teens and tweens are replacing nutritious foods with sugary coffee drinks. Michael Benedict, MD, says this could lead to larger health issues down the road.
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Coffee and Kids—Not a Good Mix

By Katie Pence
Published June 2008

Nothing sounds better in the morning than a latte—better yet, a white chocolate mocha latte.

But the new trend, especially for teens and tweens, is not just hitting the coffee shop for a morning jolt.

A growing number of adolescents seem to be replacing their breakfast, afternoon snack, milk and water intake with a tall sugary coffee drink, and UC experts say this could lead to a number of health issues.

Michael Benedict, MD, an assistant professor at UC and physician for internal medicine and pediatrics at University Pointe, says although there is not much research showing a growth in this trend, he suspects it is a reality.

“A study done in 2006 reported that coffee and tea intake in teens was fairly low, but that did not account for sweetened coffee drinks,” he says, noting that the No. 1 beverage teens consume is soda.

“Children are starting to drink soda by age 5, and anecdotally I think more young people are consuming coffee beverages than ever before.”

Benedict says soda has about 160 calories per 12-ounce serving, but a tall white chocolate mocha latte from Starbucks has about 330 calories—almost double the calories for the same amount of liquid.

And the caffeine content is nearly four times as much, too, he adds.

“This could not only lead to weight gain, but, if intake of these beverages is overdone, adolescents could develop insomnia, fatigue or jittery behavior, which can hinder concentration.

“Excessive intake of empty calories and caffeine may negatively impact normal growth and lead to continued problems in adulthood.”

Benedict says consumption of coffee drinks or soda in moderation is acceptable.

“Once in awhile, a soda or any caffeinated or sugary drink is all right for teens,” he says, adding that children under 12 should be given very minimal amounts of these drinks and virtually no coffee, in his opinion.

“However, parents should monitor the intake of these sorts of beverages closely and make sure their children are opting for water or more nutritious beverages, such as milk, most of the time.”

Benedict says that adolescents should be snacking on fruits and veggies instead of sugar-loaded fillers, eating breakfast daily and maintaining an active lifestyle.


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