You’ve likely heard the myth that drinking coffee will stunt a child’s growth. You may believe that kids who drink coffee can’t go to sleep on time, or that the caffeine is just not healthy for them. While many parents don’t let their kids drink coffee, they still give them chocolate or soda, forgetting that these sweet treats contain caffeine, too. Ultimately, it raises a basic question: Is it okay for kids to drink coffee?
The answer is much more complicated than a simple yes or no.
The FDA excludes kids from research on caffeine consumption. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, adults should consume no more than 400 milligrams per day, so it’s safe to assume that children and teens should ingest less than that. Supporting that theory is Health Canada, whose scientists determined the following intake levels for children:
- 4 – 6 years, 45 mg/day
- 7 – 9 years, 62.5 mg/day
- 10 – 12 years, 85 mg/day
When kids go above these limits they are more likely to experience the same side effects that an adult may feel when consuming more than 400 milligrams of caffeine. These can include feelings of anxiety, nausea, fast heart rate, jitteriness, and insomnia. But there are other issues as well.
“Too much caffeine can interfere with calcium absorption, which negatively affects proper growth,” says registered dietician Tobi Amidor in Healthline. “Additionally, adding cream and loads of sugar, or drinking high-calorie specialty coffees can lead to weight gain and cavities.”
How Much Caffeine Is in There?
On average, one eight-ounce cup of coffee can range from 80 milligrams of caffeine to 360 milligrams. The differences depend on the type of coffee, preparation, and any other additives. An 8-ounce cup of green tea has 29 milligrams of caffeine while one normal can of soda contains 45 milligrams. Finally, a 1-ounce serving of dark chocolate with 70 percent cocoa contains approximately 25 milligrams.
Though caffeine may be easier to track in soft drinks, chocolate, or energy drinks, this does not make them better for a child than coffee. In fact, some parents and health experts would argue that caffeine coming from a natural source such as coffee or green tea is actually better than processed options.
Perhaps the real question isn’t, “Is it okay for kids to drink coffee?” but rather, “How do you know when you’ve exceeded your child’s maximum caffeine limit?”
That said, using Canada’s baseline recommendations mean that children ten or older could consume a normal 8-ounce cup of coffee. However, as with soda, coffee should be a treat and not a replacement for water or other healthy beverages.
It’s also important for parents to know what’s really in that cup, so prepare the beverage yourself, and research the brand of coffee along with the preparation so that you know how much caffeine is in that cup. And, as always, consulting your child’s pediatrician – someone who knows your child’s health – is the smartest starting point.