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Most scientific research available contradicts the old myth that coffee stunts growth. So, how did these claims against coffee gain popularity? What’s the truth behind it?

Below you’ll find some answers.

Coffee and growth: The Birth of an Enduring Myth  

A mom kissing her baby in the forehead while grabbing a cup of coffee

A boy is sitting in an empty classroom, a concerned teacher looking over his shoulder. “Held back by coffee…this boy never had a fair chance,” reads the black and white ad for Postum, a breakfast drink meant as a coffee substitute. The ad, dating from 1933, goes on to claim that “coffee is a cause of undernourishment” in children and “hampers proper development and growth.”

And thus, a myth was born: coffee stunts growth. This specific ad was not responsible for birthing this belief. However, C.W. Post, the founder of the famed cereal brand Post and its marquee drink, Postum, played a crucial role in propagating the idea that coffee inhibits growth and is especially dangerous for youth. 

In the late 1800s, Post engineered an ingenious advertising campaign demonizing coffee and caffeine as “evil,” claiming that these substances lead to nervousness, kidney failure, sleeplessness, and other undesirable states. Now that we’re decades removed from Post’s preposterous pandering let’s dive into coffee’s health effects and the oft-cited claim that a hot cuppa stunts growth. 

Does Coffee Stunt your Growth?

Does coffee make you short? Not really!

Let’s clear the air from the outset – there is no evidence that coffee stunts growth. First of all, the most significant determining factor of a person’s height is their genes. Most recent studies have found that DNA accounts for about 80 percent of human size; tall parents have tall kids. But what about the remaining 20 percent? Is there enough room for coffee to creep in and do damage to a person’s growth?

Not quite. Much of the early scientific evidence underpinning this mistaken belief stems from caffeine’s potential to calcium absorption. This claim has been proven in some studies. That said, the body’s ability to absorb calcium, a vital nutrient for bone health, is only minimally impacted by caffeine consumption. In fact, only 1-2 tablespoons of milk can fully offset the effects of caffeine. 

According to a 2002 study on the effects of caffeine consumption on bone absorption, the authors found no evidence that “caffeine has any harmful effect on bone status or on the calcium economy in individuals” who consume the recommended daily amount of calcium. So there you have it – coffee consumption does not impact height. Whether kids or fully grown adults, coffee may have other ill-intended effects, but stunted growth is not among them! 

When Can Children Start Drinking Coffee?

We’ve established that coffee and caffeine do not stunt growth. Genes mostly determine height. Parents don’t have to worry about coffee hampering their child’s height. But when is it appropriate for children to start drinking coffee? Can tykes enjoy an afternoon espresso just like the rest of us, or should coffee only be enjoyed by adults? 

Coffee is a drink to be slowly sipped by serious adults who read newspapers while deliberating life’s looming mysteries, right? Think again. Though coffee is generally perceived for those of a certain age – an acquired taste – this is not the whole truth. Most children are indeed repelled by the smell and bitter taste of coffee. But health-wise, there is no reason people of all ages can’t enjoy a fresh brew. 

Most other drinks that youngsters guzzle like there’s no tomorrow (soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, juices) are bursting with sugar and caffeine. For this reason, coffee is a healthier alternative than other drinks more popular with kids.

Do kids really need an added dose of energy, though? You can be the judge of that! 

How Does Coffee Impact Sleep? 

We’ve all spent a restless night tossing and turning, regretting that early evening coffee. It seemed like the right choice at the time, but it appears a sleepless night is in the cards. When it comes to a restful night of shuteye, coffee can negatively affect it. Caffeine – that enticing drug most commonly consumed throughout the world in the form of coffee – is a stimulant. This is an inescapable fact. 

Numerous studies have examined the effects caffeine has on sleep patterns. For example, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that moderate doses of caffeine at intervals of three to six hours before bedtime can inhibit sleep. 

Caffeine blocks adenosine, a compound that the human body naturally produces that helps initiate feelings of tiredness. Caffeine attaches to the same receptors as adenosine, which prevents drowsiness from kicking in. Drinking excess coffee late in the day can also result in an overabundance of adenosine. This can bring about a nasty cycle of sleeplessness that is hard to escape. For these reasons, caffeine should be avoided up to six hours before bedtime. 

Other Health Effects of Coffee

For years, it seemed that some new evidence emerged each day for either the health benefits or risks of coffee. Times have changed. The body of evidence championing coffee as a drink with several health benefits is growing. 

However, studies of coffee’s health impacts are observational. This means that they do not offer ironclad evidence of cause and effect. But taken together, these studies do offer a compelling argument that coffee is indeed healthy! 

Without further ado, here is a list of some of coffee’s health benefits and some risks as well:

Health Benefits of Coffee

  1. Coffee lowers the risk of certain diseases: Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart failure. Studies are increasingly showing that people who drink coffee per day are less likely to develop these maladies than non-coffee drinkers. 
  2. Coffee may extend human lifespans: Coffee is one of the most plentiful sources of antioxidants among all the beverages humans drink. In particular, coffee is teeming with polyphenols, micronutrients with antioxidant effects. This, along with coffee’s ability to beat back some of the most common causes of death – cancers, diabetes, heart failure – makes the drink a potent brew to augment a healthy diet. 

Health Risks of Coffee

  1. Excessive consumption can backfire: Like most things in life, too much of a good thing is, well, no longer a good thing. Coffee is no exception. As previously discussed, too much coffee (over 400 milligrams is a good rule of thumb) can lead to sleep deprivation. An overabundance of joe can also cause raised blood pressure and increased anxiety.
  2. Coffee is potentially harmful during pregnancy: It’s conventional wisdom that pregnant women should consume less caffeine while carrying their child. While the extent of the potential developmental damage to a child later in life, there is recent evidence that caffeine consumption during pregnancy can lead to behavioral issues. It is also generally safe to consume caffeine while breastfeeding, however, doctors recommend no more than 300 milligrams per day. 

Conclusion

Myths are meant to be busted, and the widely believed fable that coffee stunts growth is undoubtedly one of those myths. Genes are the dominant factor determining a person’s height, though environmental and other health-related factors play a role. Leave coffee out of it! 

Aside from having no impact whatsoever on height, coffee has also proven to pack a potent punch in other areas. Coffee may lower the risks of a handful of fatal diseases and has an abundance of antioxidants. But still, coffee should be enjoyed in relative moderation, or about 3-5 eight-ounce cups a day. Otherwise, this healthy brew can cause sleepless nights and anxiety. 

Alec Siegel
AUTHOR
Despite my fintech day job, my true passion is the written word and the art of storytelling. When I'm not hammering away on a keyboard, you can find me brewing a filtered coffee or sitting at a quiet cafe with a book.
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