Coffee is probably one of the most well-studied beverages around. If you received a dollar for every time you saw a news article citing recent research about the benefits or risks of coffee drinking, you would probably get pretty rich, pretty quickly.
But have you ever heard someone say that coffee stunts your growth?
There are quite a lot of reasons why you may not be wanting to pump your kids up with coffee. Hyperactivity due to the caffeine probably being at the top of that list.
Another reason parents often cite though is not wanting to stunt the growth of their children. So is this a real phenomenon or simply an old wives’ tale?
Although coffee and caffeine consumption in adults is widely researched, the research amongst children and adolescents is basically non-existent.
This means that we don’t have hard evidence to say that children should or should not be allowed to drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages.
As a dietitian, this has me erring on the side of caution. In that, I would not be recommending that people under the age of 16 should be having copious amounts.
Caffeine also has a dose-response effect. So because children are a lot smaller than adults, what we deem to be a small amount of caffeine can actually be quite a large amount for them.
Canada does have some basic guidelines on caffeine consumption in children and adolescents. They recommend the following daily limits on caffeine:
- Ages 4 – 6: 45 mgs (about a half cup of coffee)
- Ages 7 – 9: 62.5 mgs
- Ages 10 – 12: 85 mgs
- Adolescents: 85 – 100 mgs
In addition to coffee, caffeine is present in tea, some sodas, and energy drinks. Amongst other things.
So Does Coffee Stunt Growth?
Well, we don’t really know.
But some people theorize that because caffeine reduces calcium absorption, this may lead to osteoporosis or at least interfere with building strong and healthy bones at a young age.
Building strong and calcium-filled bones is really important. This is because your bones ‘seal off’ in your mid-twenties and you will no longer be able to improve your bone mineral density by a significant amount.
The more dense your bones are by the time you hit this age, the less of a risk of developing osteoporosis and osteopenia there is later in life.
In saying that, there isn’t a link between osteoporosis and caffeine consumption AND the effect of caffeine on calcium excretion is actually quite minimal. You can read more about that here.
So overall, drinking coffee probably doesn’t stunt growth and may not even have too much of an effect on bone mineral density in general.
If you are concerned about your child’s bone health, it would make more sense to ensure they are getting enough calcium and vitamin D on a regular basis.
Although, I still don’t encourage caffeine consumption amongst young people, particularly younger children as we just don’t have the evidence for its safety in this population.
The Bottom Line
Caffeine and specifically coffee consumption probably doesn’t stunt growth in children and adolescents.
But there are other concerns around young people and kids consuming too much caffeine in general.
Children are not simply small adults, so the research we have in adult populations drinking coffee shouldn’t be extrapolated to children and teenagers.
Childhood and our teenage years are a period of rapid growth and brain development. This means that at these stages in life we need a balanced diet and proper sleep to thrive. I mean, this is important at any age but if an adult wants to drink 4 cups of coffee before bed, that is their prerogative.
Caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns and dull appetite leading to reduced food intake and you could argue that these things could lead to stunted growth. At the very least, they are not optimal for a growing person.
Caffeine consumption in young people and children is also more likely to be from high sugar caffeinated beverages than a standard flat white or black coffee. So simply from that perspective alone, it could be best to delay regular caffeine consumption.