Q: My 13-year old daughter has been hanging out after school with friends at the local coffee shop. I’m concerned because I’ve heard that drinking coffee isn’t healthy for children and teens. After reading your recent article on the health benefits of coffee, I don’t know what to think. Could you weigh in on this? ~ Juanita, Montrose, CO
A: I’m glad you asked, Juanita. And the answer, of course, is everything in moderation. Too much coffee – at any age – is not a good thing, mainly because of the caffeine content. The FDA has determined that up to 400 mg of caffeine per day is fine for adults; unfortunately, it has set no specific guidelines for kids and teenagers. However, Health Canada has recommended no more than 2.5 mg/kg of body weight. So a teen who weighs in at 125 lbs, should not drink more than 140 mg of caffeine per day. To put that into perspective, here is the caffeine content in common beverages:
- Starbucks grande coffee – 330 mg
- Brewed coffee (8 oz) – 163 mg
- Red Bull – 80 mg
- Mountain Dew – 54 mg
- Iced Tea – 47 mg
- Pepsi – 38 mg
- Coca Cola – 34 mg
- Chocolate Milk – 5 mg
- 7-Up – 0 mg
Excess caffeine consumption can cause jitteriness and sleep deprivation – which obviously isn’t a good thing for kids or adults. But it can also lead to behavioral problems, hyperactivity, and difficulty in concentration with kids and teens. Also, coffee should definitely not be substituted for nutritionally healthier beverages such as milk and water. One other thing – because coffee is a diuretic and increases urination, this can lead to dehydration. Even worse, increased urination causes loss of calcium, which can lead to bone loss, since calcium is essential for bone growth. That old wives’ tale that coffee drinking will stunt one’s growth – well, maybe it’s not an old wives’ tale after all.
Forbidding your daughter from drinking coffee will only make her want to drink it more. My advice is that you encourage her to drink it, as well as all caffeinated, high-sugar beverages, only occasionally, in moderation – and not as substitutes for healthier beverages, especially water. You might even take it one step further and suggest that she and her friends take up active after school hobbies like intramural sports, biking, or even walking around the mall.