Coffee For Kids: Right Age, Safe Quantity And Side Effect

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Coffee is one of the most widely consumed caffeinated beverages worldwide. Adults enjoy it because of its taste, pleasant aroma, and tendency to improve attentiveness. However, coffee for kids is generally not advised.

The caffeine component in coffee is a major health concern for children since too much of this stimulant might lead to adverse consequences.

Read this post to know about children’s coffee intake, including its side effects and health benefits, to assist children and parents in making educated decisions.

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.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should kids brush their teeth after coffee?

Brushing immediately after consuming anything acidic could damage the teeth’ enamel. It is recommended to wait around 30 minutes before brushing teeth after eating or drinking anything acidic; else, it can weaken the tooth enamel (20). Coffee is acidic and the same principle for brushing applies to it..

2. Can kids with braces or aligners drink coffee?

Children with metal braces should rinse their mouths with water immediately after drinking coffee. Whereas those with clear aligners (has plastic) need to remove the trays before consuming hot beverages such as coffee as the heat may warp the plastic (21).

Coffee for kids should be avoided until they reach the age of five. It is also suggested that older children and teenagers avoid or restrict their caffeine intake to 100mg per day (one cup of coffee) since too much caffeine can have negative impacts on children. In addition, coffee includes a lot of added sugar, cream, and other additives, which might be harmful to your child’s health. Therefore, as a parent, you should educate your child to pick healthy alternatives to coffee and gradually limit their coffee intake in their daily life.

Infographics: How To Reduce Your Child’s Caffeine Intake

Banishing caffeine from your child’s diet can be easier said than done. So, rather than fretting about your child guzzling caffeinated beverages, focus on ways to reduce their caffeine intake. Our infographic brings you tips that can make your job easier.

how to reduce your child’s caffeine intake [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Children, in general, must avoid caffeinated beverages.
  • Children’s bodies are smaller, making them more susceptible to even modest quantities of caffeine, amplifying its effects.
  • Caffeine intake may reduce their appetite, causing anxiety and dental cavities.
  • If you wish to introduce coffee to kids, check the intake amount with your pediatrician.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
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
20. Brushing immediately after meals? You may want to wait; Columbia University, Irving Medical Center
21. How to drink coffee without staining your teeth; Orthodontics, Australia

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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different... more

Jennifer Swallow

(MS, RDN, LDN)
Jennifer has 16 years of experience with the plant-based diet as she has studied nutrition and applied science-based principals to her own diet. With a dietetics license from the state of Florida, she works as a clinical and wellness dietitian. Jennifer graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Bowling Green State University... more

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