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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2006 Feb;47(2):135-42.

Psychostimulant and other effects of caffeine in 9- to 11-year-old children.

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1
Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, 8 Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1TN, UK.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Recent research on adults suggests that "beneficial" psychostimulant effects of caffeine are found only in the context of caffeine deprivation; that is, caffeine improves psychomotor and cognitive performance in habitual caffeine consumers following caffeine withdrawal. Furthermore, no net benefit is gained because performance is merely restored to "baseline" levels. The effects of caffeine in children is an under-researched area, with only a handful of studies being carried out in the US where children's consumption of caffeine appears to be lower on average than in the UK.

METHOD:

Twenty-six children aged between 9 and 11 years completed a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Habitual caffeine consumers (mean daily caffeine intake = 109 mg) and non/low-consumers (12 mg) were tested on two separate days following overnight caffeine abstinence. On each day measures of cognitive performance (a number search task), and self-rated mood and physical symptoms, including alertness and headache, were taken before and after administration of 50 mg of caffeine, or placebo.

RESULTS:

At baseline (before treatment), the habitual consumers showed poorer performance on the cognitive test than did the non/low-consumers, although no significant differences in mood or physical symptoms were found between the two groups. There were significant habit by treatment (caffeine vs. placebo) interactions for accuracy of performance and headache, and a significant main effect of treatment for alertness. Post hoc comparisons showed that caffeine administration improved the consumers' accuracy on the cognitive test (to near the level displayed by the non/low-consumers at baseline), but that it had no significant effect on the non/low-consumers' performance. In the consumers, caffeine prevented an increase in headache that occurred after placebo, and it increased alertness relative to placebo. Again, however, caffeine did not significantly affect levels of headache or alertness in the non/low-consumers.

CONCLUSIONS:

These results suggest that, like adults, children probably derive little or no benefit from habitual caffeine intake, although negative symptoms associated with overnight caffeine withdrawal are avoided or rapidly reversed by subsequent caffeine consumption.

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