Coffee is one of the most widely consumed caffeinated beverages in the world. This is largely due to its energizing effects, as well as its great taste and aroma.
In fact, US adults aged 18–65 drink more coffee than any other caffeinated beverage, including energy drinks, tea and soda. Among adolescents, coffee is the second most consumed caffeinated beverage, following energy drinks (1).
Accordingly, there is much debate over whether coffee is safe for adolescents, as it’s thought to hinder proper bone growth and development.
This article takes an evidence-based look at whether coffee will stunt your growth and how much coffee adolescents can safely consume.
For some time, growing teens were warned that drinking coffee would stunt their growth.
However, there is no evidence that drinking coffee has any effect on height.
One study tracked 81 women aged 12–18 for six years. It found no difference in bone health between those who had the highest daily caffeine intake, compared to those with the lowest (2).
The exact origin of this myth is unknown, but it’s thought to have something to do with the caffeine that is naturally found in coffee.
Thus, it wasn’t far-fetched to warn growing adolescents about drinking coffee out of fear it would prevent their bones from fully developing.
However, the reduction in calcium absorption associated with caffeine intake is so small that it can be offset by adding 1–2 tablespoons of milk to every 6-ounce cup (180 ml) of coffee you drink (7).
Summary The caffeine in coffee is thought to inhibit bone growth in adolescents. However, there is no evidence linking growth and height with coffee consumption.
Coffee does not stunt growth, but it may harm health in other ways.
Coffee Can Disrupt Sleep
The caffeine in coffee can temporarily increase alertness and energy, but it can also interfere with sleep.
It stays in a young person’s body much longer than in an adult’s body, so its effects take longer to wear off.
A study in 191 middle schoolers found that caffeine intake ranged from 0–800 milligrams per day. Students reported their sleep patterns and intake of caffeine-containing foods and drinks for two weeks (10).
Higher caffeine intake was associated with reduced sleep at night, disrupted wakings at night and increased sleepiness during the day (10).
Some Coffee Drinks Are High in Sugar
Many popular coffee drinks contain significant amounts of added sugars in the form of flavored sugar syrups, whipped cream and shaved chocolate.
Added sugars are different than the sugar naturally found in fruit and milk because they contain calories but no beneficial nutrients.
Some of these sugary coffee drinks can contain upwards of 66 grams of added sugar and pack nearly 500 calories (16).
Summary Adolescents who consume more caffeine may sleep less at night, which may result in poor grades and an increased desire for sweet, high-calorie foods. Plus, the added sugars in many popular coffee drinks can cause additional health problems.
Coffee contains several substances that have been associated with many health benefits.
These beneficial components include:
- Caffeine: Responsible for coffee’s stimulating effects, caffeine can improve exercise performance. It has also been linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (17, 18, 19, 20).
- Chlorogenic acid: This compound acts as an antioxidant, protecting your body’s cells from damage. It may also play a role in weight management (21, 22, 23, 24).
- Diterpenes: This group of compounds possesses antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Test tube studies suggest diterpenes may also have anticancer properties (25, 26, 27, 28).
- Trigonelline: Research in diabetic mice suggests that trigonelline lowers blood sugar levels and improves nerve damage associated with uncontrolled diabetes (29, 30, 31).
What’s more, a review of 201 studies found that drinking coffee was associated with a lower risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and kidney disease (32).
While promising, these results are observational, meaning researchers can’t prove that coffee caused these effects. This limits the strength of the review (32).
Summary Coffee contains several components that are beneficial for health. Observational studies suggest a positive link between drinking coffee and a decreased risk of disease.
This is the equivalent of four to five 8-ounce cups (240 ml) of coffee.
However, the recommendations are different for other populations, including children and pregnant women, who are much more sensitive to caffeine's effects.
Moreover, these recommendations include caffeine from all sources — not coffee alone.
Caffeine is also present in tea, soda, energy drinks and chocolate.
Growing Teens and Younger Adults
The US government doesn’t have recommendations for children’s caffeine intake, though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a limit of 100 mg a day. This is the equivalent of about one 8-ounce cup of coffee for teens 12–18 years old.
Health Canada recommends the following caffeine limits for children and young adults (35):
- 4–6 years: 45 mg/day
- 7–9 years: 62.5 mg/day
- 10–12 years: 85 mg/day
- 12–18 years: 2.5 mg/kg of body weight/day
This equals about 2–3 cups per day.
Summary Adults can safely consume four to five 8-ounce cups of coffee per day. Due to differences in metabolism, children and pregnant women should consume less.
However, you can help prevent bone disease and fractures later in life with proper nutrition and exercise, specifically during your adolescent years.
Calcium and vitamin D are two nutrients important for healthy bones.
Calcium is found in many foods, but the most common sources include milk and other dairy products.
Few foods naturally contain high levels of vitamin D, but many foods are fortified with it, including orange juice, milk, yogurt and breakfast cereals (42).
Vitamin D can also be produced naturally in your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
When you lift weights, you put stress on your muscles. Your muscles adapt to this stress by growing larger and stronger.
However, if you don’t put stress on your muscles, they have no reason to change and will either maintain their strength and size or grow weaker.
The same is true for bones. Lifting weights places stress on your bones, causing them to become stronger and more resistant to breaking.
Summary Your height is largely determined by your genes, which you cannot control. However, you can optimize bone health by adopting good nutritional and lifestyle habits.
Coffee has long been associated with stunted growth in adolescents, but there is no evidence to support this.
However, that doesn’t mean adolescents should regularly drink coffee. Too much coffee can disrupt sleep, and many popular coffee drinks may be high in added sugar, which can cause health problems.
That said, if you stay within the recommended caffeine limits, coffee is safe and even beneficial.
And while you may not be able to control how tall you grow, you can strengthen your bones with a healthy diet and routine exercise.