Calories, Caffeine and the Onset of Obesity in Young Children

Acad Pediatr. 2020 Aug;20(6):801-808. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2020.02.014. Epub 2020 Feb 17.


Objective: High calorie foods and beverages, which often contain caffeine, contribute to child overweight/obesity. We evaluated the results of an educational intervention to promote healthy growth in very young children. Secondarily, we used detailed diet data to explore the association of nutrient intake with the early development of overweight and obesity.

Methods: Mothers were obese Latina women, enrolled prenatally, and their infants. Specially trained community health workers provided breastfeeding support and nutrition education during 10 home visits, birth to 24 months. At follow-up, age 18 to 36 months, we measured growth and completed detailed diet recalls (1-7 recall days/child).

Results: Of 174 infants randomized, 106 children were followed for 24 to 36 months. The educational intervention did not prevent overweight/obesity. Forty-two percent of children became overweight or obese. Fifty-eight percent of children consumed caffeine on at least 1 recall day. Mean intake was 0.48 mg/kg/day. Caffeine correlated with higher consumption of calories, and added sugar and decreased intake of protein, fiber and dairy. Compared with days without caffeine, on days when caffeine was consumed, children ingested 121 more calories and 3.8 gm less protein. Children frequently consumed less than the recommended daily intake of key nutrients such as fiber, vegetables, whole fruit, and vitamins.

Conclusions: Caffeine was a marker for increased intake of calories and decreased intake of key nutrients. When discussing dietary intake in early childhood, practitioners should screen for nutrient deficiency in young children and recommend limiting the intake of caffeinated foods and beverages.

Keywords: caffeine; child; nutrition; obesity; prevention.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Caffeine / administration & dosage*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Eating / physiology
  • Energy Intake / physiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Pediatric Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control*


  • Caffeine