For kids, sugar and caffeine is a potent combination. A recent study at Ontario, Canada’s McMaster University found alarming evidence: a link between lots of screen time (both online and TV) and increased sugar and caffeine consumption in children, most notably teens.
The study’s authors used a huge sample: 32,418 American students in 8th or 10th grade.
“There is a trend towards reduced energy drink and soda consumption between 2013 and 2016 which is our latest data, but greater electronic device use, particularly TV, is linked to more consumption of added sugar and caffeine among adolescents,” study leader and pediatrician Dr. Katherine Morrison said in a press release.
Certain Types of Screen Time Lead To More Consumption
The biggest culprits in overconsumption include talking on the phone, using social media and watching television.
Watching TV even one extra hour led to a 32% higher risk of exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) daily sugar recommendations. That same extra hour was also linked to a 28% higher chance of topping WHO caffeine recommendations. Even if your child skips an extra binge hour of Netflix and merely chats with friends, he’s at an increased risk of consuming more sugar and caffeine.
Oddly, online video games, so generally deplored, are NOT linked with overconsumption of sugar and caffeine.
“Given the marketing campaigns that target video gamers, we expected a particularly strong association between caffeine intake from energy drinks or sodas with video game use, but TV was linked more strongly,” Morrison said.
Other good news: if your child is using a computer for school, there’s a lower likelihood of overindulgence. Apparently, writing an essay on The Scarlet Letter doesn’t get the taste buds flowing.
Consequences for Too Much Caffeine
While the old saying that caffeine (or coffee) stunts your growth is totally untrue, too much caffeine can have negative health consequences. As a stimulant, caffeine might be helpful in controlled doses (millions of morning zombies agree), but too much of the stuff and anxiety might set in.
The Sleep Foundation discourages the mix of caffeine and kids in an article on its website, saying “Although caffeine is safe to consume in moderation, it is not recommended for children. It may negatively affect a child’s nutrition by replacing nutrient-dense foods such as milk.”
The Sleep Foundation article continued, “A child may also eat less because caffeine acts as an appetite suppressant. Caffeine can be safely eliminated from a child’s diet since there is no nutritional requirement for it.”
Of course, the biggest problem with caffeine is that too much of it will lead to insomnia. This is piggybacked onto the fact that screen use also leads to sleep disturbance. Combine the two and you have a formula for staying up all night long. That’s hardly something today’s teens, who already have early mornings and sleep deprivation, need.
There’s also the possibility of headaches. The site Schmerz Klinic states, “Children and adolescents with high daily caffeine consumption in the form of cola drinks may suffer from caffeine-induced daily headache.”
And, as all unlucky adult morning coffee addicts know, the only “cure” for a caffeine withdrawal headache is to wait it out… and not have any more caffeine. It’s a cruel lesson, and one children should be spared.
Advice For Parents: Take Control of the Screen Time
While it might be tempting to chain the fridge shut, there’s an easier (and kinder) solution: set clear boundaries when it comes to online time.
This, according to Julianna Miner, author of Raising a Screen Smart Kid, includes checking your own behavior: are you online constantly and munching away, lost in a sea of carbs and Red Bull? Miner recommends not being a hypocrite.
“If I don’t want my kids on their phones all the time, then I need to not be on my phone all the time,” Miner tells Parentology. “But I also need to narrate what I’m doing. And so making it very, very clear, as fully as possible, how you’re using the technology. So if my kid walks in and I’m staring at my phone, I can hold it up and say, “Hey, I’m reading my Kindle app because I have 30 minutes before I’ll have to go pick up your brother.”
Another piece of sound advice? No screens in bedrooms! “Yeah, I take my kids’ phones at night,” Miner says. “No one in my house sleeps with their phone in their room, my husband and I included.”
Finally, keep energy drinks, soda, and sugary snacks out of the house, and replace them with healthier choices. Remember: the one who grocery shops has the purchasing power.