Caffeinated Kids

Under-12s are drinking a lot less soda and a lot more coffee than they used to, according to a recent study in Pediatrics (pdf). Rachel Feldman investigates:

Why are kids guzzling down coffee instead of cola? Once considered part of a healthy diet, soda consumption has increasingly been tied to childhood obesity and behavioral problems. Marketers are left swinging between offering “natural” products and pushing their diet soft drinks as an alternative to calorie-heavy regular soda. But studies have found that the fake sugar in diet soda could actually make people more hungry, and wreck their bodies’ ability to react to the real thing—so kids end up packing on the pounds anyway.

Our perception of coffee has gone in the other direction. In moderation, most studies now suggest, coffee itself is actually pretty good for you. But it’s the rest of what’s in that cup that worries health experts. Coffee historian Mark Pendergrast told MarketWatch that speciality coffee shops like Starbucks have made the drink “hip and cool,” but the drinks that appeal most to kids are only distant cousins of a black cup of Joe. “The milk and added sugar [in drinks like the Starbucks Frappuccino] cut the acidity and make it more palatable for children,” he said, “and for adults, for that matter.” These fats and sugars counteract the potential benefits of drinking coffee.