Luke Voytas is a pediatrician and author in Portland, Oregon. His posts combine research and common sense to help parents be calm and confident in raising their kids.

Will Caffeine Stunt Your Kid's Growth?

Will Caffeine Stunt Your Kid's Growth?

Kids want their parents’ stuff.  Always.  I’m addicted to coffee.  So everyday for the past five years, my kids have asked me, “Can I have some?”  It’s usually after about seven “No’s” that I tell them “it’ll stunt your growth.”  After that it gets a little more intense: “Do you think I like living this way?  Do you think I enjoy getting headaches by 10:00 and nauseous by noon if I don’t get coffee?  Is that a path you want to go down?”  That’s usually pretty effective. 

And I remember my mom saying the same thing to me.  Most parents who feel fine about occasional juice or soda would never let their kids have coffee.  But does coffee, and caffeine in general, really stunt your growth?  In a December 2013 article on Smithsonian.com, reporter Joseph Stromberg traced the origins of this myth, and it all came down to money.

C.W. Post was a breakfast cereal pioneer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (still going strong with Grape-nuts, Fruity Pebbles, Honeycomb, and many more).  He invented a warm, grain-based breakfast drink called “Postum”, which he advertised as a healthier alternative to coffee.  And he went after coffee hard, using some shady science to claim that coffee attacked the kidneys, heart, and nerves.  One awesome ad from 1933 shows a lone boy, drugged by caffeine and nodding off at his desk while his teacher stands over him.  The headline reads, “Held back by Coffee. . .this boy never had a fair chance.”  It goes on to say that “coffee can make quiet children more listless and sluggish.  It can make active children nervous and irritable…It robs children of their rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes.”  Not the rosy cheeks! Oh, the humanity!

I’m not telling you to give your kid coffee, but no studies have ever shown that it stunts growth.  And, if you’re into “grain-based breakfast beverages”, you can still buy Postum today.

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