Does Coffee Stunt Growth in Kids (or Teens)?
Adults drink coffee and kids drink hot chocolate; those were the rules when I was growing up. Even so, the amount of hot chocolate that my mom would drink during winter almost rivalled her coffee consumption. That still didn’t mean that her kids were allowed to break the rules.
One of the main reasons why I and so many other kids weren’t allowed to drink coffee was because it was believed that it could stunt our growth.
So, just how much truth is there to this claim? Does coffee stunt growth in kids?
Short answer: no.
Decades of research have been focused on this “fact” and the unanimous verdict is that it is false. So, how exactly did this urban myth get started?
Coffee, Caffeine, and Calcium
The main reason why this question – “does coffee stunt growth?” – sparked debates in the first place was because coffee contains caffeine. Early research, which was focused on the effects that caffeine had on the body, indicated that there was a direct relation between caffeine consumption and reduced calcium absorption.
As we’ve all learned from 6th grade science and TV commercials, calcium is necessary for the development of strong bones. However, if calcium is necessary for developing strong bones and caffeine reduces calcium absorption, then why is it okay for adults to drink coffee?
You know what caffeine is, right? It’s the thing in coffee that wakes you up, keeps you alert, and gets you energized. Yet it isn’t only found in coffee – it can be found in soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, and even some teas.
Technically, caffeine is classified as a psychoactive drug (or psychoactive substance), since it alters brain function and can affect cognition and perception. Caffeine has some extremely notorious family members in the psychoactive substance household – like cocaine, MDMA, and heroin – but that doesn’t mean that it is inherently threatening.
Don’t just take my word for it. The much smarter brains at the US Food and Drug Administration have deemed it as GRAS (generally recognized as safe).
Baby Bones and an Adult Advantage
Well, if inadequate bone strength and density are the fears, then the fact that a child’s bones aren’t as fully developed as an adult’s would rationally validate those fears. We all know that the adult body has 206 bones (another bit of knowledge that we can thank 6th grade science for) but a baby’s body has almost 100 more bones. These bones develop rapidly as the years go by and many of them end up fusing together to form the 206 that we have as adults.
How Severely Does Caffeine Affect Calcium Absorption?
We know that a child’s bones are undergoing significant development and that calcium is important for this process – so how badly is caffeine affecting all of this?
Well, studies have shown that the effect that the average 6 oz. (180 ml) cup of coffee has on calcium absorption can be countered by just drinking 2 tablespoons of milk. That doesn’t mean that your kids should go and drink half dozen cups of coffee because they’ve drank a glass of milk beforehand.
There are still a few reasons why young kids should hold off from drinking coffee and maybe teenagers should practice some extra moderation.
Health Issues That Are Actually Related to Coffee
So, does coffee stunt growth? No.
Coffee isn’t just a tasty drink that keeps you awake, it actually does have a considerable amount of recorded benefits. However, there are a few health issues that you should be aware of before you give your kids free reign with your coffee maker.
Drinking Coffee Can Ultimately Disrupt Sleep Patterns
We’ve already touched on what caffeine – the active ingredient in coffee – does to your brain. It is a stimulant that wakes you up and energizes you. As an adult, if you drink a cup of coffee in the morning and then another one in the afternoon, it’s likely that you’ll still be able to sleep comfortably at bedtime.
Kids’ Bodies Are Still Learning How to Handle Caffeine
Results will differ if a young child or even a teenager consumes a considerable amount of caffeine (coffee, soft drinks, etc.) during the day. This is because caffeine stays in a child’s body much longer than it would in an adult’s. It takes their body longer to process it and so its effects take more time to wear off – leading to disrupted sleep patterns and sleep deprivation.
Sleep is Needed for Heart and Mind
Of course we don’t want our kids to be sleep deprived, since this can increase the risk of heart-related medical issues. In addition to this, a lack of sleep directly affects cognitive processes; like reasoning, attention, problem solving, and alertness.
Coffee Drinks Usually Have High Sugar Content
Unless you happen to give your kids black coffee and they absolutely love it – which is extremely unlikely – chances are that they would opt for something with more sweetness. Chances are that they would not have to look far, since you’re bound to have sugar or another sweetener in your cupboard. In addition to this, we all know that Starbucks isn’t planning to cut sugar from their drinks anytime soon.
How Sweet Should Kids Be?
By now, we all know the dangers of consuming too much sugar. Heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, are just a few of the friends that oftentimes follow closely behind sugar. In fact, the American Heart Association strongly recommends that a child’s added sugar intake should not exceed 6 teaspoons each day.
The answer was right there from the get-go. Does coffee stunt growth in kids? No.
However, there are still several other reasons why you should probably hold off on giving your kids free reign to drink as much coffee (and other caffeinated beverages) as they please. Coffee won’t be weakening their bones but an overindulgence just might weaken their mind, their heart, and their body.