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Is Coffee Bad for Kids?

Posted on Feb 19, 2020

Too much caffeine can have a negative impact on children, especially younger children.
Diane Vizthum, M.S., R.D. recommends limiting coffee and caffeine intake, especially in very young children.

Does your kiddo love a cup of morning Joe as much as you do? Does he or she look forward to a little java jolt at the local coffee bar after school? With coffee consumption on the rise among children and adolescents, there’s discussion brewing over coffee’s impact. Beyond what research has shown about caffeine, we really don’t know beans about coffee’s long-term effect on kids.

We let some questions percolate with Diane Vizthum, M.S., R.D., a research nutritionist at the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Should kids drink coffee?

Much can depend on the individual child, but the younger a child is, the less inclined I would be to recommend this. The big downside of kids drinking coffee is the caffeine content. Currently, there are no federal guidelines for caffeine intake regarding children. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine consumption for kids. However, Canada does have some basic guidelines. 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 (48 mg per 8 ounces), caffeinated soda (37 mg per 12 ounces), hot chocolate (10 mg per 12 ounces), and chocolate (10-30 mg per 1.5 oz). It’s also added to a variety of sports products and energy drinks.

How does caffeine affect children?

Caffeine has a dose-response effect. Because children are smaller in body size, it takes less to impact their functioning. Children and adolescents are also still developing and the impact of caffeine on their nervous systems and cardiovascular systems is not fully known. Too much caffeine can cause issues such as increased anxiety, increased heart rate and blood pressure, acid reflux and sleep disturbance. Too much caffeine is dangerous for kids, and in very high doses, can be toxic.

Caffeine is a stimulant that increases alertness. If your child feels like he or she needs caffeine to get through the day, it would be better to work with a pediatrician to identify the root cause of what is creating the fatigue in the first place.

Specialty coffee drinks are available everywhere now. What impact can these drinks have on children and adolescents? 

Most of these drinks tend to have not only the caffeine, but also high amounts of sugar, cream and whipped cream. They’re more like desserts and can contribute to excess sugar and calorie consumption if consumed often.

There is a growing amount of research on the positive effects of coffee in adults — including decreased risk of stroke, cancer, certain heart conditions, Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Could these benefits one day be shown to apply to children as well?

Coffee beans contain antioxidants and other substances that research is showing help protect against disease. However, there’s no research currently to demonstrate whether drinking coffee in childhood could have an impact — either positively or negatively — into adulthood. Long-term studies would be needed to try to answer that question. 

Is there a bottom line?

I would say to err on the side of caution, and to try to limit coffee and caffeine intake of any kind, especially for the youngest children.


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