Ask The Experts: When Can Kids Start Drinking Coffee?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Coffee is addictive and withdrawal symptoms are real.– Toby Amidor, MS, RD

“Coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant. There are no standards in the U.S. for caffeine intake in kids, but Canada has a maximum limit of 45 mg per day (equivalent to the caffeine in one can of soda). Too much caffeine can lead to insomnia, jitteriness, upset stomach, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and increased heart rate. In younger children, these symptoms occur after just a small amount. Further, childhood and adolescence are the most important times for bone strengthening. Too much caffeine can interfere with calcium absorption, which negatively affects proper growth. Additionally, adding cream and loads of sugar, or drinking high calorie specialty coffees, can lead to weight gain and cavities. So when is it okay for kids to start drinking coffee? A few sips here and there are no big deal. However, when sips turn into daily cups, that’s a whole other story. Coffee is addictive and withdrawal symptoms are real, so the later you start, the better. I recommend starting towards the end of adolescence when growth and development is slowing down.”

Coffee is a vessel for empty calories in the form of added sugar.– Andy Bellatti, MS, RD

“The research I’ve seen points to negative cardiovascular and neurologic effects, namely anxiety and insomnia, in children who consume caffeine. These days, the issue is not coffee itself, but rather the cloyingly sweet ‘energy drinks’ commonly consumed by tweens and teenagers. In many cases, energy drinks are marketed to teenagers. The other problem right now is that ‘coffee’ has become synonymous with 20-ounce coffee-ish concoctions largely made up of syrups, whipped cream, and caramel sauce. In the case of many teenagers, coffee is a vessel for empty calories in the form of added sugar. As far as drinking ‘real’ coffee on a daily basis — espresso, cappuccinos, and lattes — I think it’s prudent to wait until the age of 18.”

The effects of excessive caffeine include hyperactivity, mood swings, and anxiety.– Cassie Bjork, RD, LD

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“There’s not necessarily a black and white answer for what age is appropriate to introduce coffee. The main downfall is that coffee has caffeine, a stimulant, which can make it an addictive substance. Most would likely agree that an addiction to anything is not ideal, especially in childhood. Yet this can happen if coffee is consumed excessively, regardless of age. The effects of excessive caffeine include hyperactivity, insomnia, poor appetite regulation, mood swings, and anxiety. Tolerance to caffeine widely varies from person to person. Most recommendations for adults are to keep caffeine to 200 to 300 mg per day to avoid experiencing negative side effects. And for developing children, it may be wise to stick to half of this amount to be safe.”

Soda and energy drinks contain similar amounts of caffeine.– Alex Caspero, MA, RD

“As we all know, coffee contains caffeine, a stimulant that affects both adults and children. Soda and energy drinks contain similar amounts of caffeine. At low levels, caffeine can help increase alertness and focus. However, too much can cause jitteriness, nervousness, headaches, and increased blood pressure. Since children are smaller than adults, the amount of caffeine needed for this to happen is lower. There are no set guidelines in the U.S. for caffeine intake by kids, but I would consider a few things. First, caffeinated drinks like sodas, frappuccinos, and energy drinks contain a lot of empty calories, with similar amounts of sugar as you’d find in candy bars, which I wouldn’t recommend daily. Secondly, caffeine is a diuretic, so I would recommend extra caution if your child is drinking coffee and exercising, especially outside. One thing that caffeine doesn’t do is stunt growth. Although this belief was once promoted heavily, the theory isn’t backed by research.”

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