5 Reasons Why Coffee Is Bad For Kids And How It Affects Them

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Coffee is one of the most commonly consumed caffeinated beverages in the world. Its flavorful taste, pleasant aroma, and ability to increase alertness make it a preferred beverage for adults. Children and teens also show interest in coffee when they see their parents consume the beverage, but coffee is not advised for them.

The caffeine content in coffee is a major concern since excess of this stimulant may cause adverse effects in children. This post tells you about the consumption of coffee by kids, to help children and parents make informed choices.

Can Children Drink Coffee?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, for children up to five years of age (1). Older children and teens should preferably avoid or at least limit coffee intake (2) (3).

The sweetened coffee drinks that children and adolescents usually like (as plain black coffee is bitter) have zero nutritional value. Besides, they are usually high in calories due to sugar and other additives, like whipped cream. Sustained consumption of sugary drinks may pose health risks, like childhood obesity.

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much For Children?

The US FDA has not set a limit on caffeine consumption in children (4). However, other experts recommend that adolescents (12 to 18 years) limit their caffeine consumption to 100mg per day (one cup of coffee) (5) (6).

Government regulators in Canada have the following recommended maximum caffeine intake values for children from ages four to 12 years (7).

Age (years)Maximum Recommended Intake (mg/day)
4 to 645
7 to 962.5
10 to 1285

 Source: Government of Canada

Apart from coffee, some of the most commonly consumed caffeinated drinks among children and teens are hot chocolate, tea, energy drinks, and soda. These drinks should also be limited to keep the caffeine intake in check.

What Is The Right Age For Children To Drink Coffee?

There is no recommended right age for children to start consuming coffee. The US FDA recommends speaking to your child’s healthcare provider for advice regarding the consumption of caffeinated beverages (4). Younger children should avoid coffee. Older children and adolescents may have it in limited quantity if they are unwilling to replace it with a healthier option.

How Does Caffeine Affect Children?

Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system (CNS) of children, just like it does in adults. However, children and teens can be sensitive to even small doses of caffeine due to their smaller body size (3).

Here are some general effects of caffeine that may occur both in adults and children, who regularly consume coffee (8).

  • Increase in alertness and boost in energy due to the stimulation of CNS.
  • Increase in urine output due to the diuretic effects of caffeine.
  • Increase in the release of acid in the stomach leading to an upset stomach or acid reflux.
  • Possible interference with calcium absorption.
  • Increase in the blood pressure and heart rate.

Is Coffee Bad For Children?

Coffee is not harmful when consumed in limited quantities, but there is no recommended safe intake level for children. The body of a child is still growing, and it is not yet known how caffeine affects their CNS, circulatory system, and other organs. Children could also accidentally over consume caffeinated beverages, such as coffee (5).

Coffee with high quantities of added sugar, cream, and other additives, such as chocolate chips, could contribute to high sugar consumption. It may pose a health risk in the long run.

Excess consumption of coffee can expose children and teens to a high dose of caffeine that can lead to the following side effects (4) (5) (9).

  1. Might decrease appetite: A review study indicated that consumption of caffeine about half an hour to four hours before a meal might suppress appetite (10). However, why and how it does is unclear and still under research.
  1. Can increase anxiety and nervousness: According to the American Psychological Association, high amounts of caffeine can stimulate a child’s immature neurological systems and cause symptoms, such as reduced attention capacity, increased anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia (11).
  1. Can cause dental cavities: Sweetened coffee is high in sugar, which could cause bacterial growth in the mouth. The bacteria produce acid, which erodes the tooth enamel, thus triggering tooth decay in children (12).
  1. Can cause bone loss: High caffeine intake is associated with reduced calcium bioavailability and increased calcium excretion contributing to bone loss (13) (14). Poor calcium levels during puberty disrupt normal growth and development of the child.
  1. Can cause caffeine dependency: Teens are likely to develop caffeine dependency since they may notice that it helps them stay awake and focused (6). However, as tolerance to caffeine increases, the caffeine intake also increases. A sudden limitation or avoidance of caffeine develops a sense of withdrawal  (15). Some of the common withdrawal symptoms are fatigue, reduced energy, nervousness, irritability, and recurrent headaches (16).

Besides the above conditions, overconsumption of coffee may cause immediate effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and increase in blood pressure (6). Hence, its intake must be monitored and.

Are There Any Health Benefits Of Drinking Coffee?

Regular consumption of unsweetened coffee in limited amounts is associated with improved heart health, lowered risk of type-2 diabetes, enhanced mental health, and increased liver protection (17) (18). Most of these health benefits are due to coffee’s bioactive compounds, like chlorogenic acid, caffeine, trigonelline, and diterpenes, that possess antioxidant, hypoglycemic, and hypolipidemic effects (19). These effects are well-researched in adults, but not for children and teens. Hence, these benefits of coffee may not be applicable to children and teens.

The consumption of coffee by children and adolescents should be discouraged. Parents should help children and adolescents make informed choices through constant guidance and support. Motivate your child to select healthy alternatives to coffee and guide them on gradually reducing and ceasing the intake, if they are already consuming it every day.

References:

1. Recommended Drinks for Young Children Ages 0-5; Healthy Children; AAP
2. Trends in Caffeine Intake Among US Children and Adolescents; AAP
3. Is Coffee Bad for Kids?; John Hopkins
4. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much?; FDA
5. Parents, Perk Up to the Dangers of Caffeine for Teens; Michigan Health
6. Top 4 Reasons for Teens to Limit or Quit Caffeine; Cincinnati Children’s
7. Caffeine in Food; Government of Canada
8. Caffeine; MedlinePlus; U.S National Library of Medicine
9. Is it Safe for Children to Drink Coffee?; Australian Institute of Food Safety
10. Matthew M Schubert et al.; Caffeine, coffee, and appetite control: a review; NCBI
11. A sip into dangerous territory; American Psychological Association
12. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Tooth Decay; University of Delaware
13. Kids and Caffeine; American Bone Health
14. Jennifer L. Temple; Caffeine Use in Children: What we know, what we have left to learn, and why we should worry; NCBI
15. Caffeine; Better Health; Victoria State Government
16. Karima R. Sajadi-Ernazarova et al.; Caffeine Withdrawal; NCBI
17. The latest scoop on the health benefits of coffee; Harvard Health
18. Health Benefits of Coffee; RUSH University Medical Center
19. Coffee; Oregon State University

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