Lots of people drink coffee. It’s one of the most commonly consumed beverages on the planet. While here in the US, it’s mostly adults who drink coffee, it’s becoming increasingly popular among middle and even elementary school students. A recent study of students up to 22 years old found that over 70% of them had caffeine on a daily basis, much of it from either coffee or soft drinks. Whether you’re looking for the caffeine boost or simply for enjoyment, there is a lot of discussion about exactly how healthy coffee is for young people in the long run.
Interestingly, some research has found that adults who drink coffee (in moderation) are at lower risk of stroke as well as type 2 diabetes. However, the case might not be the same when it comes to children and adolescents. For students, especially younger children, not only are these health benefits significantly less relevant, but there are a host of potential issues that come with drinking coffee.
One obvious potential downside that comes from coffee is the damage it can do to a student’s sleep schedule. As we’ve discussed in a previous post, students, particularly younger students, need to have a consistent sleep schedule in order to function and grow properly. Most experts recommend anywhere from 9 to 11 hours of sleep, depending on age.
Most people say that the reason they drink coffee is to feel less tired and more alert. Ironically, though, drinking coffee can be one of the reasons they’re tired in the first place. One cup of coffee contains, on average, up to 5 times as much caffeine as a comparable amount of caffeinated soda. While the effect of caffeine varies from person to person, it’s not uncommon for it to be effective for up to 8 hours. This may not be a problem if you only drink coffee first thing in the morning, but many students use it as an energy booster throughout the day.
Aside from the negative impact stimulants can have on a student’s sleep schedule, another major concern is hyperactivity. Caffeine is a stimulant, and as such, does increase energy levels. While this may appeal to adults, children, who are far more sensitive to chemical stimulants than grown-ups, only stand to be hurt by its effects. As well, the energy boost results from artificial stimulation comes at a price. Even adults who don’t experience hyperactivity can deal with everything from jitteriness to increased heart rate and anxiety. What’s more, when the coffee’s effects inevitably wear off, it often leads to a “crash,” leaving the students stuck with unimaginable drowsiness for the last part of their day or drinking more coffee to stay awake, and subsequently throwing off their sleep schedule, as we mentioned.
Another issue that kids may have to deal with if they drink coffee is a decrease in appetite. Caffeine, like all other stimulants, can negatively affect appetite, which is a serious problem for children who need a full, balanced diet in order to develop. There are also concerns about caffeine’s effect on oral hygiene. Coffee is naturally acidic. The acid found in coffee wears down tooth enamel, increasing the risk of cavities, especially for children who still have some or all of their baby teeth. Additionally, most children who drink coffee do so with milk, sugar, and even flavored syrups added, which can be very detrimental to the overall health of their teeth.
When is it okay for kids to start drinking coffee?
Considering all of these risks, what is a “safe” age for drinking coffee? As you probably expect, the answer isn’t obvious. Most experts, however, do recommend that parents wait until at least after puberty to allow their children to drink coffee.
As always, when it comes to drinking coffee, moderation is key. As true as this is with adults, it is critical with children, who are still developing. Some studies show that small amounts of caffeine can be okay for children. However, they only recommend that children are allowed no more than 45mp per day, roughly equivalent to one can of cola or about 4 ounces of brewed coffee.