BACKGROUND: The increased availability of caffeinated drinks raises questions about the level of caffeine that is appropriate for children, as well as the benefits and risks associated with their consumption.
METHODS: Using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines, this systematic review evaluates evidence from randomised controlled trials investigating the effects of caffeine on cognition, behaviour, mood and exercise performance in children. Observational studies and expert panel guidelines are also discussed.
RESULTS: One hundred and nine studies were found, with 11 randomised controlled trials and 13 observational studies meeting the criteria. High caffeine intakes (e.g. >5 mg kg(-1) body weight day(-1) ) were associated with an increased risk of anxiety and withdrawal symptoms. However, smaller amounts were not linked with such effects and may benefit cognitive function and sports performance based on adult studies. The evidence suggests that children and adolescents should limit daily caffeine consumption to 2.5 mg kg(-1) body weight day(-1) , equating to one or two cups of tea or one small cup of coffee. Lower contributors of caffeine, such as tea, may be more appropriate for children because they contribute to daily fluid intakes and provide flavonoids. By contrast, caffeinated soft drinks may be less suitable options for children as a result of their acidity, higher caffeine content, presence of added sugar (in some cases) and absence of bioactive compounds.
CONCLUSIONS: More studies are needed to determine the intakes that represent a risk and whether there may be benefits for alertness and sports performance with moderate intakes of caffeine.