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Life begins after coffee, but not for kids
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Life begins after coffee, but not for kids

Children below 12 years of age should not be given coffee or other caffeinated drinks, say experts
Is coffee bad for kids?
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K/Happiest Health

Is coffee bad for kids? Parents have a wide array of opinions and while for some, this drink is completely forbidden, others think of it as a lesser evil. Megha Gopinath (40), the mother of two from Bangalore shares that her six-year-old son has been having coffee since he was a year and a half old. He hated the taste of plain milk, and she was at her wits’ end. “I was strictly against mixing chocolate-based drinks marketed widely. Coffee felt like a more suitable alternative — at least, it did not have processed sugar. So I began adding tiny teaspoons of coffee decoction to his cup of milk,” Gopinath said. Since then, he has been drinking a cup of mild coffee every day.

Doctors advise against coffee intake for children under 12 as it is unhealthy for them. However, depending on their age and health conditions, you may provide it as an occasional treat.

Why is coffee bad for your kid?

Coffee, a stimulant that helps one stay awake, is an acquired taste. However, this beverage comes with its own baggage of health concerns. Dr Saumil Gaur, pediatric nephrologist, Rainbow Children’s Hospital, Marathahalli, Bangalore, says, “Coffee is bad for kids and is best avoided. When consumed regularly, the child can eventually develop cravings and dependence.”

Age-appropriate caffeine consumption for children

Dr Asmita Mahajan, pediatrician, Raheja Fortis Hospital, Mahim West, Mumbai, outlines the age-appropriate caffeine consumption for children:

  • Children under 12 years of age must not consume caffeine.
  • Children between 12-18 years are allowed only 100mg of caffeine per day.

This limit is inclusive of caffeinated drinks such as sodas and energy drinks as well as chocolates, reminds Dr Vikram Belliappa, consultant surgical gastroenterologist and hepatobiliary surgeon, Langford Clinic, Bangalore.

How to mitigate your child's coffee cravings

How does coffee affect child health?

“Coffee triggers various physiological changes such as lack of concentration, sleep deprivation and anxiety-related issues,” explains Dr Belliappa. So coffee is bad for kids, especially those under the age of 12 years. Dr Gaur adds that inadequate sleep, which can occur especially when children have coffee late in the evening, can hamper their productivity in school. “Frequent or excessive intake of coffee also increases stress hormone levels in children. This can further induce irritability and mood swings in kids,” explains Dr Gaur.

Can drinking coffee affect the heart rate?

“The caffeine in coffee can cause heart palpitations (increase in heart rate). It also can activate the fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system and increase the risk of hypertension,” explains Dr Kshitij Sheth, consultant pediatric cardiologist, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai. 

While the bitter taste of coffee gives you a high, the added sugar in coffee is another cause of concern for heart health, say experts. Moreover, Dr Belliappa cautions that the unnecessary calories the child consumes can increase the chances of obesity in the long run.

Coffee for kids with kidney disease: A strict no!

Dr Gaur highlights that children with underlying kidney diseases must completely avoid coffee as caffeine can indirectly cause kidney damage. “Most children with kidney issues are likely to have borderline blood pressure. Coffee can further increase this blood pressure, so it can hamper kidney health in children,” he explains.

Warning signs that your child is having too much coffee

A regular-sized coffee cup containing 240 ml of the beverage contains roughly 100 mg of caffeine. This is a mega dose for a child between the age of 12-18 yrs and must not be exceeded says, Dr Gaur.

According to Dr Mahajan, parents must watch out for the following signs that could indicate excessive caffeine intake:

Severe side effects of caffeine

Dr Gaur confirms that when children have coffee frequently or excessively, it increases the risk of cravings and can lead to caffeine dependence. “When denied coffee, such kids can develop serious withdrawal symptoms including fatigue, inability to focus and headaches, similar to those seen during withdrawal from alcohol addiction. In rare cases, adolescents could also be at risk of substance abuse,” cautions Dr Gaur.

 Do’s and don’ts of coffee for your child

In Gopinath’s household, her son is limited to one cup of coffee in the morning. As other family members do not have caffeinated drinks or sodas after their morning coffee, her son, too, does not request a second cup of the beverage. Thus, even when children drink coffee, parents need to set certain limitations. Dr Mahajan elaborates:

  • Children above 12 years of age must avoid drinking coffee after 6pm. This is crucial as consuming this beverage later in the day can affect sleep in children.
  • Children must never have coffee first thing in the morning as it can cause acidity.  They must eat a healthy, nutritious breakfast before drinking coffee.

Takeaways

Coffee is bad for kids as they can become dependent on it, which can lead to irritability and other health complications. Experts add that parents should not allow children below the age of 12 to drink coffee. Older kids between the age of 12-18 years should be limited to one cup of coffee measuring not more than 240ml a day. 

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