November 6, 2019

Health Check: is caffeine actually bad for kids?

An article in The Guardian said coffee stunting kids’ growth is just a myth promoted by 19th-century manufacturers of a coffee substitute.

So does this mean the long-thought wisdom that coffee is bad for kids is a lie?

Caffeine and diet

Kids normally need a lot of extra nutrition during their adolescent growth spurt, and you might expect the appetite-suppressing effect of caffeine to result in poorer dietary intake and reduced growth.

However, data from the Penn State Young Women’s Health Study indicated growth in teenage girls did not appear to be affected by their caffeine intake – there was no correlation at all.

The girls with the lowest caffeine intakes did have better diets, though, eating less sugar and more fruit and dairy foods. And this may show what the main problem is with kids and caffeine: its association with factors that affect health in other ways.

Caffeine and tooth decay

American data from nationwide health audits indicate that nearly three-quarters of US children consume caffeine, with the most common source being soft drinks (including energy drinks).

Apart from the caffeine content, these sugary drinks – in fact any carbonated drinks – are high in tooth-damaging acid. Compared to adults, kids are more vulnerable to tooth decay as their saliva is less effective at rinsing the teeth and their tooth enamel is softer.

Calories

Another problem is that caffeine-containing soft drinks, iced tea products and Starbucks-style cream-laden coffee drinks are a concentrated source of extra calories in the diet, and their liquid form means our bodies aren’t good at judging when we have had enough.

This makes them a poor choice of drink if there is concern about risk of obesity, and the addictive caffeine in them can make it a harder habit to break.

Sleeping patterns

But what about a weak milky cup of coffee, tea or cocoa, without sugar? While these don’t pose the same nutritional problems, the caffeine might still have an impact on kids’ health by affecting their sleep patterns.

Kids need a lot of sleep. The Australian Sleep Health Foundation recommends up to 11 hours per night for children, or eight to ten hours for teenagers.

It’s hard for teens to get the amount of sleep they need, because they are naturally “night people”. If normal school and work hours require them to be up by seven or eight in the morning it is then important for them to be asleep by ten – something they will often find difficult. It is even harder if they consume caffeine.
Even an early afternoon coffee could have an effect because it can last in the body for up to eight hours, and kids are affected by much smaller caffeine doses because of their smaller body size.

And just as for adults, caffeine can cause anxiety, nausea and headache, as well as affecting heart rhythm in susceptible people.

In one study in children, even one milligram of caffeine per kilogram of body weight caused significant changes in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as nausea in many of the participants.

An average Australian eight-year-old girl weighs about 25 kilograms, and that dose would be equivalent to a cup of tea or five squares of chocolate, or half a weak cappuccino.

Small amounts

But, as previously pointed out, there are also some well-documented health benefits associated with a low-to-moderate intake of coffee – potentially a reduced risk of dementia, depression, diabetes and cancer.

And caffeine-boosted alertness, concentration and mood can be beneficial for children as well as adults, as long as the dose is low enough to avoid unwanted side-effects and addiction. Just note – for kids, that dose is a lot lower than you might have thought.

The ConversationShare your comments below.

Suzie Ferrie, Clinical Affiliate, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  • I don’t think it’s a good idea. Children are ‘up’ there most of the time without needing and extra stimulant. When they are old enough they can decide for themselves.

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  • Yeah no, not for my kids. When they are old enough, they can decide whether they like it or not

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  • Too young.

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  • I think too young at this moment

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  • Guess I don’t have this problem because we don’t drink coffee.

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  • I don’t think I would give my kids tea too young either.
    If you are thinking of giving your kids de-caff coffee it is worth remembering that they use chemicals to remove the caffeine.

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  • I think kids should steer clear of caffeine.

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  • I’m happy go still go with that theory. My son has had no interest in coffee until he became a young adult and he can make his own decisions. He’s always been hypo enough and we’ve always stressed he didn’t need any caffeine.

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  • Maybe just keep away from the kids who have anxiety or can’t sit still already. Otherwise I’ve never seen a problem

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  • My husband was handed his first cup of coffee at the ripe old age of SIX and he was simultaneously told “You’re a man now.” His German father had some unusual quirks, and this was definitely one of them. Personally I am not okay with kids having coffee on a regular basis. An occasional weak one on a weekend for the tween (and kids that are older) seems fine by me.

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  • A very interesting read, thanks!

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  • I don’t want my kids to have caffeine too young, they don’t need the addiction. I would rather give it to them over stimulants if they had ADHD or something. Pharma meds are nasty, I have been on them for my ADHD in the past and I hated them so much I went off them. I can only imagine what they would do to a young developing brain. I see parents give their 6 year old a bottle of coke and am glad my girl that same age (now 7) didn’t even consider having it herself. Water all the way!

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  • well I have never given them coffee, they have occasionally had a sip to try but they find it too bitter. I do give them a cup of tea with breakfast and sometimes one after school though. Maybe I will start making them a small coffee just before they start their homework!

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  • So many beliefs we have these days from good marketing in the past

    Reply

  • My kids love to drink coffee only occasionally.

    Reply

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