Is coffee bad for kids?

For adults, coffee can be very healthy. It is a rich source of antioxidants and other nutrients that can benefit your body. Coffee makes you feel more energetic, helps burn fat, improves physical performance and could even prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and some types of cancer. It is caffeine, the main active drug in coffee that is responsible for a lot of these benefits.

So do these benefits apply to kids as well? Unfortunately not. Like nicotine and alcohol, caffeine is a drug, a stimulant to be precise. Despite the fact that its consumption could benefit adults, it tends to have the opposite effect on children.

A one cup serving of brewed coffee contains approximately 95 mg of caffeine. It is generally advised that children of ages 12 and under should not consume caffeine. Around 45 mg per day is thought of as a safe amount and this is usually made up for via chocolate or sodas. However caffeine consumption should not be a daily part of a child’s diet. A cup of coffee has double the maximum amount of recommended caffeine and should therefore be avoided.

Why children should avoid coffee

There are a number of negative effects coffee consumption can have on kids, which I would like to explain below.

It can lead to insomnia

Sleep is important for all human beings but even more so for children. Sleep is vital for the growth of muscles, bones & skin, the healing of injuries and it also maintains a healthy immune system. It is recommended that children between 1 – 3 years of age get 12 – 14 hours of sleep per day, 3 – 6 years get 10 – 12 hours and 7 – 12 years get 10 – 11 hours.

Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can affect sleep. This study found that caffeine consumption up 6 hours before retiring to bed had an impact on sleep. The study was carried out on adults which suggests that the effects would be even stronger in children!

It could cause hyperactivity

Anyone who has dealt with a hyperactive child knows how difficult it can be to make them calm down. Whilst there are medical conditions that can lead to hyperactivity, certain substances such as sugar and caffeine are known to aggravate it.

As you can imagine, it is important for children to be attentive especially whilst at school. Being hyper does not help the situation.

It is bad for teeth

Not only does coffee stain teeth, but because it is acidic (with a pH of around 5) it could wear away the enamel of teeth, which is the hardest part of the body.

Once the enamel is destroyed it doesn’t grow back and this then leads to cavities and decay. It is important to monitor children’s diets and limit acidic and sugary foods in order to reduce tooth damage.

It could reduce hunger

Many people use coffee to mask hunger and fatigue and the consumption of coffee can reduce appetite. This is not ideal for children because they need to consume adequate amounts of nutritious food to help their bodies grow.

The reduced consumption of foods rich in protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals can result in deficiencies which in turn can lead to various health problems. On average, children should consume between 1000 and 2000 calories, depending on age, gender and activity levels.

It might affect bone development

Studies have shown that caffeine reduces the amount of calcium that the intestines absorb. Again, the studies have been carried out on adults which showed that if they consume the recommended daily amounts of calcium, caffeine does not pose a health threat on bone health.

However it is not known whether the same is true for children who have growing bones. It is recommended that children get between 700 and 1300 mg of calcium per day, and the consumption of coffee could potentially lower this amount, leading to deficiencies.

Coffee is addictive

Caffeine is a drug and like any other drug consumed by man, it can lead to addiction. This is why some people are unable to function fully in the morning until they have had a cup or two of coffee.

And like with any drug, it leads to symptoms when you stop consuming it. Headaches, fatigue and nausea are the 3 main ones associated with coffee withdrawal. Even if coffee didn’t cause any of the harmful effects listed above, they would probably get addicted to it and would need to drink it just to be able to function.

How can you help your children feel less tired?

After reading the negative effects that coffee has, the only reason I can think of for you wanting to give your children coffee would be to help them feel less tired. Everyone feels tired once in a while but if your child is constantly tired you may need to make one or two changes to their lifestyle:

  • Make sure they are drinking enough pure water. Dehydration leads to fatigue, so it is important to stay well hydrated. If your child does not like the taste of plain water, try adding some pieces of fruit such as oranges or watermelon in it to make it more palatable.
  • Make sure they are not nutrient deficient. It is important for children to eat well balanced meals that are rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and lean meat.
  • Make sure they are getting enough quality sleep. I remember when I was a child I would’t go to bed until 1 am and then would have to wake up at 6 am for school, making me feel super exhausted. If necessary, keep away mobile phones and computers from children after 9 pm.

If your child continues to feel tired, you should visit a doctor right away.

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