Drinking a cup of coffee is a common occurrence for many adults at the start of their day.  It makes us more alert and helps us to stay focused.  However, more and more, teens are gravitating to local coffee shops before school — or even at their school coffee bar — to help them get through their homework, classes, and after-school activities. But what are the risks associated with teens drinking coffee and should we be promoting "coffee bars" in schools?

Teens and caffeine

Adolescent coffee drinking has increased over the last 20 years, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Up to 73 percent of adolescents consume caffeine daily, primarily from coffee and energy drinks. Caffeine amounts vary among different beverages, but coffee typically contains more caffeine than what is found in soft drinks and teas.

Coffee bars in schools

Teens often arrive at school with a large cup of coffee or energy drink to give them a morning jolt.  Schools around the country have begun offering coffee bars to increase revenue for the school, teach students how to run a business, and also offer them a social outlet. Some have even supported the "health benefits" of coffee, noting an increased milk intake.

Benefits and risks of drinking coffee

Benefits may include reduced fatigue, memory boost, and enhanced athletic performance, as well as reducing risks of heart disease, multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and Alzheimer's. However, we need to remember that caffeine is a stimulant and that there are associated risks to the adolescent brain and body. Excessive intake of caffeine can result in increases in heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety, headaches, sleep disorders, and nausea.  Drinking too much caffeine is also linked to nicotine use in teens, which contributes to the endless cycle of disrupted sleep and stimulant use.

Caffeine recommendations for teens

Caffeine intake of 100 mg a day — the equivalent of less than 8 ounces — for children and adolescents has not shown adverse effects. However, doses of 500 mg a day are considered toxic. And we know that many teens are not drinking just one cup of coffee a day. A small coffee is usually 12 ounces, whereas a large coffee contains 24 ounces.  A single, large iced coffee has about 235 mg of caffeine, which exceeds the limits for most teens.

What can parents do?

Even though drinking coffee offers teens a social outlet and perhaps other benefits, we need to educate them on the risks related to caffeine and the proper safe amounts they can consume. Teaching them to choose decaffeinated beverages, as well as reducing the overall amount they drink, can help prevent the risks involved with excessive intakes.