“Coffee will stunt your growth.” That’s what my mother said when I wanted to drink coffee as a kid. For a long time, I didn’t question what she told me. But now that my own kids have a hankering for Starbucks, I decided to find out more. So, was my mother right? Does coffee, or caffeine, stunt growth?
In a word — no.* But there is more to the story. Caffeine will not slow children’s growth or lead to them being shorter adults. However, it can cause other effects on growth and development, even before birth.
- Sweetened caffeinated drinks are associated with overweight in children.
- Girls who drink caffeinated soft drinks daily have a 50% increased chance of starting their period early (before age 11).
- Teenagers who regularly use caffeine sleep an average of 40 minutes less per night.
- High caffeine intake is associated with anxiety in teenagers.
- In middle school students, caffeine consumption in the form of energy drinks has been associated with a higher rate of smoking and alcohol use. In middle school girls in particular, it has also been associated with a higher rate of other substance use.
- In older adolescents, caffeinated energy drinks are also associated with alcohol use.
- Any level of caffeine intake may be associated with having an unusually large baby, and for that baby to be overweight during the preschool years. (I realize that this fact is unlikely to be of use to you in convincing your kid to avoid coffee drinks.)
What is a reasonable intake of caffeine? The U.S. does not have official guidelines, but Canada does. For children aged 12 and under Health Canada recommends a maximum daily intake of no more than 2.5mg/kg of body weight. Based on average weight, that works out to be no more than: 45 mg/day for children 4-6 years, 62.5 mg/day for children 7-9 years, and 85 mg/day for children 10-12 years. For adults, the maximum limit is 400mg. I’ve also added in some weight ranges for teenagers in this table.
Maximum daily caffeine
100 – 120 lbs
121 – 150 lbs
151 – 180 lbs
181 – 200 lbs
So, should your child be drinking coffee? The answer: it still depends. I’ll address more of the physical and behavioral effects of caffeine in a later post.
Rebecca Cherry, MD, is a specialist in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at Pediatric Specialty Partners in San Diego, CA. She will not reveal her caffeine intake, but can be reached for other queries at pediatricspecialtypartners.com or by phone at 858-625-0809.