Coffee and Children Don't Mix
In recent weeks, we've explored the health benefits of coffee, and have had occasion to note that while the research is sometimes inconclusive, there's a growing body of evidence that points to coffee being beneficial for a sound mind and body. As with anything else, of course, there are exceptions. One particularly glaring exception is one on which practically all the scientific literature agrees (with a notable exception that we'll explore in the coming week): if you want to know if coffee is good for your children, the answer is a resounding no.
Energy drinks and coffee are popular with kids. Some of this can be attributed to advertising, especially for the likes of Red Bull, Monster, and (for a while, rather notoriously) Four Loko. When it comes to coffee, some of the same things that appeal to adults also appeal to their children. Adults aren't the only ones who know that coffee tastes good, boosts energy, and improves alertness. For some kids, there's also the cachet of drinking an "adult" beverage legally. But coffee comes with downsides for younger drinkers that they, and their parents, may not realize.
Let's start with the calorie count. Your average tween or teen, after all, isn't given to sipping espresso or black coffee. A young coffee drinker typically takes their sugar with coffee and cream, dumping plenty of it into their coffee to make it more palatable. Kids are also more likely to be drawn to coffee drinks that are loaded down with syrup shots, chocolate, caramel, and other ingredients that typically amount to a lot more sugar and calories.
For example, a typical Starbucks Grande Mocha Latte (with 2% milk and whipped cream) comes in at 360 calories, 140 of which are from its 15 grams of fat. The sugar content isn't helping matters any; with 35 grams, it has nearly the entire amount of added sugars that are recommended as a daily maximum for adults. And we're not just singling out Starbucks, since variations on the same recipe (with very similar -- or even much higher -- calorie counts can be found at other chains and indie coffee shops from coast to coast).
That sugar has another side effect, especially taken in tandem with coffee's acidity. Children's tooth enamel usually hasn't fully hardened, meaning that the teeth are more vulnerable to acidity. Too much coffee (and sugar) consumption can lead to tooth decay and cavities.
As if that weren't troubling enough, both sugar and caffeine are stimulants that lead to a loss of appetite and faster metabolism, meaning that proper nutrition -- already vital -- becomes even more important if your kids are drinking coffee. That same stimulant effect also means that kids are more prone to hyperactivity during the day, and likely to sleep less at night. That means less alertness in school the next day, and a high likelihood that they'll resort to more sugar and caffeine to stay alert, creating a vicious cycle of energy spikes followed by periods of tiredness and irritability.
As parents, it's up to us to teach our kids to moderate their intake, and to be mindful of what fuels their minds and bodies from day to day. As with anything else in moderation, a small cup of coffee every now and again need not be harmful to children. It's important, however, that an occasional indulgence doesn't become a potentially harmful habit.
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