CAFFEINE & TEENAGERS -- Caffeine is the world's most popular drug. Being "addicted" to caffeine is not abnormal. And, it's different for boys than for girls.
Today teenagers are consuming ever greater amounts of caffeine -- which is in everything, as reported in Ethic Soup's "Caffeine Is In Everything: How Much Is In You?"
However, there has not been much research on how caffeine specifically affects adolescents.
Is the strong appeal for caffeine the same for teenagers as for adults? How does high consumption, over the long term, affect teens' blood pressure, heart rate and hand tremor? Does consuming caffeine while a teen contribute to later use of legal or illicit drugs?
SHOULD CAFFEINE BE ILLEGAL FOR TEENS?
Whoa! If scientific research proves that caffeine damages the health of adolescents, and that teen caffeine consumption directly causes use of more drugs after adolescence, sounds like caffeine could become illegal for teen-use, like alcohol. If that happens, drink-makers of sodas and energy beverages could lose billions of dollars. It is the teenagers who are their major consumers and who are the targets to whom they market their heavily-caffeinated products.
The federal government, through the National Institutes of Health, is funding an $800,000 study, over four years, to answer the above questions. Neurobiologist Jennifer L. Temple, assistant professor at the University at Buffalo and director of its Nutrition and Health Research Laboratory is leading the study.
CAFFEINE'S GENDER EFFECT
There are some results already. The first part of this study, reported in Behavioural Pharmacology (December 2009 issue), is thought to be the first study to show a gender effect in the appeal of caffeinated soda in teenagers.
Researchers anticipated seeing a difference between teens who habitually drank a large amount of heavily-caffeinated soft drinks and those teens who drank few. But results showed that the difference was between boys and girls.
The gender difference was that adolescent boys in the study worked harder and longer on a computer-based exercise specifically to obtain caffeinated drinks.
MIMICS DRUG ADDICTION
Studying how hard a teenager will work to obtain a particular food or a caffeine drink is one aspect of how food/drink reinforcement mimics drug addiction. This is Dr. Temple's primary research interest -- food reinforcement and understanding the mechanisms that underlie this type of reinforcement and figuring out if it can be redirected to a more healthy habit.
Temple suggests that the sex differences found might be based on the effect of "circulating hormones" at the time of the test (however, this was not measured) and the possibility that females are less sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
You do have to be careful that you don't look at correlational studies as cause-and-effect. They aren't. Temple did not mention it, but one of the first things that popped up for me is that the gender difference may have been boy's competitiveness surrounding computer games. Of course, that, too, could involve testosterone.
I wonder about Temple's speculation was to the "why's" of her findings. Hypothesizing bout "circulating hormones" sounds like a convenient target. All anyone has to do when discussing any behavior of teenagers is use the word "hormones" and everyone listening nods their heads in confirmation. Hormones are the cause of everything for teens.
And the idea that females are less sensitive to the effects of caffeine -- that could be a "maybe." At least, the researcher didn't suggest the teenage girls were under the mystique of hormones. Perhaps that's because she herself is female and tired of having her hormones being blamed for all her behaviors.
Everyone knows about the ricocheting hormones of teenagers --projectiles with glancing rebounds that hit on any and everything around them. But I applaud the effort to study the effects of caffeine on teenagers and add to the small body of literature on caffeine use in kids and adolescents.
We're going to need the understanding such research can bring -- and soon, particularly considering the heavy increase in cases of "caffeine intoxication" seen at hospital emergency rooms and poison centers.
TO READ "TEENS & CAFFEINE: DANGEROUSLY WIRED WITH CHEWING GUM INJURIES" CLICK HERE.
by Sharon McEachern