What's the Right Age: Drinking Coffee

Is Coffee Bad for Kids?

While caffeine does not stunt children's growth, too much caffeine can cause symptoms like hyperactivity, insomnia, nervousness, nausea, irritability, headaches, anxiety, and even muscle tremors or irregular heartbeat.

So how much is too much? The Mayo Clinic recommends no more than 200 to 300 milligrams per day for adults, but the U.S. doesn't suggest an official maximum daily amount of caffeine for kids. Health Canada recommends no more than 45 milligrams a day for kids aged 4 to 6, 62.5 milligrams for kids age 7 to 9, 85 milligrams for kids age 10 to 12, and no more than 2.5 milligrams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight for adolescents 13 and up -- which means that a 110 pound adolescent should not have more than 125 milligrams of caffeine a day. Many coffee beverages contain more than that: a 16-ounce Starbucks Vanilla Latte contains 150 milligrams of caffeine [source: The Mayo Clinic].

Caffeine isn't the only possible problem with the latest coffee treat. Many coffee drinks are packed with staggering amounts of sugar, fat and calories. Blended, milkshake-like coffee drinks are usually the biggest culprits: a 16-ounce Starbucks White Chocolate Crème Frappuccino delivers 610 calories and 19 grams of fat (a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with cheese, for comparison, has 510 calories and 26 grams of fat) [sources: Starbucks, McDonald's]. The obesity epidemic our children are facing makes this no laughing matter. Coffee can also stain kids' teeth, and the sugar in some coffee drinks can lead to cavities.

So what should you do if your 14-year-old asks for a latte? Moderation is key. Remember all the sources of caffeine in your child's diet (sodas, chocolate, tea) and make sure that he or she isn't getting too much. Help your kid to cut back gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Learn about the sugar and fat content of your child's drinks, and suggest the 8-ounce drink instead of the monster-sized one. Make sure your child doesn't drink coffee less than 6 hours before bedtime. Teaching your kids to be responsible coffee drinkers will help them stay healthy, happy and cool.

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  • Health Canada. "It's Your Health: Caffeine." March 2010. (June 2, 2010) http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/food-aliment/caffeine-eng.php#he
  • The Mayo Clinic. "Caffeine Content for Coffee, Tea, Soda and More." Oct. 3, 2009. (June 1, 2010) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/caffeine/AN01211
  • The Mayo Clinic. "Caffeine: How Much is Too Much?" March 24, 2009. (June 1, 2010) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/caffeine/nu00600
  • McDonald's. "McDonald's U.S.A. Nutrition Facts for McCafe Coffees." (June 2, 2010) http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/nutritionexchange/McCafeMenu.pdf
  • McDonald's. "McDonald's U.S.A. Nutrition Facts for Popular Menu Items." January 2007. (June 3, 2010) http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/nutritionexchange/nutritionfacts.pdf
  • The Nemours Foundation. "TeensHealth: Caffeine." (June 1, 2010) http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/nutrition/caffeine.html
  • The Nemours Foundation. "TeensHealth: Taking Care of Your Teeth." (June 2, 2010) http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_body/take_care/teeth.html
  • Starbucks. "Nutrition Catalog." (June 1, 2010) http://www.starbucks.com/menu/catalog/nutrition?drink=all
  • MSNBC.com. "Coffee the Norm for growing number of children." April 15, 2008. (June 1, 2010) http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/24123703/ns/parenting_and_family/
  • Trust for America's Health. "F as in Fat 2009: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America." July 2009. (June 1, 2010) http://healthyamericans.org/reports/obesity2009/