- The myth that caffeine stunts growth comes from older research linking coffee to osteoporosis.
- Caffeine doesn’t affect height, but poor nutrition, chronic illness, and some health conditions can.
- Caffeine can cause anxiety, insomnia, and stomach issues, so experts say kids should avoid it.
Most pediatricians recommend no more than 100 mg of caffeine for kids ages 12-18 and no caffeine whatsoever for children under the age of 12. But — contrary to what your parents may have told you — not because caffeine stunts your growth.
In fact, the idea that caffeine stunts growth is a myth. No scientific evidence suggests caffeine has any impact on growth, and since an estimated 73% of children and adolescents in the US consume caffeine every day, the effects would likely be apparent by now.
So why has this idea stuck around? And what should you actually be worried about, when it comes to your child's growth? Let's get to it.
Where does this myth come from?
The myth that caffeine can stunt your growth doesn't have a clear source, but it may stem from some older studies that concluded coffee causes osteoporosis and bone loss, which could make you shorter over time.
Here's what the studies on caffeine and osteoporosis actually discovered: People who consume a lot of caffeine tend to consume less calcium and vitamin D from dietary sources. Not getting enough of these important nutrients can lead to decreased bone density and osteoporosis.
Can anything actually 'stunt your growth'?
Caffeine doesn't seem to affect growth during important developmental times, including infancy, childhood, and the final growth spurts that occur around puberty.
- Nutrition: Nutrition is the most important external factor affecting your height. "Not eating enough foods that contain essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin D and calcium can lead to stunted growth and other health issues that may persist into adulthood,'' says Dr. Mahmud Kara, a functional medicine doctor and founder of KaraMD. You also need adequate amounts of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
- Chronic illness: Chronic inflammatory illness during childhood can affect your final height. This includes conditions that impede nutrient absorption, such as Crohn's disease, chronic diarrhea, or parasites, as well as other chronic illnesses like asthma and cystic fibrosis.
- Stress: Inflammation related to acute or chronic stress may also have some impact on growth.
Later in life, height loss can happen due to some physical factors:
- Osteoporosis: Usually occurring after age 50, osteoporosis causes a loss of bone density and can lead to height loss in older adults when it causes compression fractures.
- Spinal disc degeneration: As you age, the discs between your vertebrae lose water and can start to degenerate, which may lead to a noticeable loss of height.
- Scoliosis: With this condition, your spine curves laterally, which can affect your posture and cause pain. Though usually diagnosed in childhood, scoliosis may affect your adult height if the curvature is large and left untreated.
Caffeine does have some side effects
Caffeine has a wide range of effects on the body, some of which experts consider positive. For instance, moderate caffeine intake can:
However, caffeine can have some negative side effects, especially when consumed in larger amounts, or if you're particularly sensitive to its effects. Potential side effects include:
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Upset stomach
- Increased blood pressure
These side effects are more likely to occur if you:
- Have caffeine sensitivity: Your genetic makeup can affect how you tolerate caffeine.
- Are pregnant: You metabolize caffeine more slowly during pregnancy, which often makes you more sensitive to caffeine's effects.
- Have a panic or anxiety disorder: Too much caffeine can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety.
Caffeine side effects in kids
Experts recommend children under 12 avoid caffeine.
The lower your body weight, the less caffeine it takes to produce an effect, Kara says. Young children and adolescents, then, are more likely to experience negative side effects of caffeine such as anxiety, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, and sleep disturbances.
A number of studies have highlighted other negative side effects of caffeine in children and adolescents:
- A large observational study from 2015 tracked caffeine intake and self-reported levels of stress, anxiety, and depression in 2,097 students ages 11-17. Caffeine didn't seem to affect the students' perceived stress, but higher caffeine intake did appear to increase their risk of anxiety and depression.
- A large 2020 study included 11,718 children ages 9-10 who had an average caffeine intake of 13 mg per day. Children who consumed more caffeine tended to earn lower scores on a series of cognitive tests that included working and episodic memory, cognitive flexibility, vocabulary comprehension, and processing speed.
Recommended caffeine intake
- 1.5 8-oz cups of brewed coffee
- 4 12-oz caffeinated sodas, like Coke or Pepsi
- 3 cups of black tea
- 12 ounces of an energy drink
The US Food and Drug Administration considers up to 400 mg of caffeine per day safe for adults. However, current recommendations suggest some people limit caffeine intake:
- Children under 12: No caffeine
- Adolescents ages 12-18: No more than 100 mg per day
- While pregnant: No more than 200 mg per day
- While nursing: No more than 300 mg day
Many kids and teens consume caffeine regularly. Though caffeine may not have an effect on growth, it can have a number of other negative side effects, from anxiety and insomnia to problems with memory and focus.
Experts recommend children under 12 avoid all caffeine and that teens consume it only in moderation for optimal health and development.
Even in adults, caffeine sensitivity can contribute to a number of unpleasant health effects. In other words, it never hurts to consider your own caffeine intake along with your child's.