Sing it from the rooftops (or at least tell your parents), because the adults were wrong: There's no evidence that coffee stunts growth.
That longstanding myth is a product of clever marketing, not solid science, reports Joseph Stromberg in Smithsonian's Surprising Science blog.
In the late 19th century, C.W. Post, who we have to thank for the still-popular Grape Nuts, pioneered a less-enduring breakfast trend when he invented Postum.
Envisioned as a coffee replacement (and still in limited production today), Postum doesn't have much in common with a regular cup of joe except its temperature and brown hue. It's brewed from grain and molasses and is naturally caffeine-free.
But ads for Postum (see image at left) included ominous warnings against serving coffee to your precious little ones, saying "it robs children of their rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes," and — crucially — "hampers proper development and growth."
"Postum made C.W. Post a fortune, and he became a millionaire from vilifying coffee, and saying how horrible it was for you," Mark Pendergrast, the author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World, told Smithsonian. "The Postum advertisers had all kinds of pseudoscientific reasons that you should stay away from coffee."
Today, Stromberg writes, "virtually all of coffee's supposed ills have been debunked — including the idea that coffee stunts growth."
While there aren't many studies about the effect of long-term coffee use on children, in adults at least, there's a great deal of research supporting the health benefits associated with a steady coffee habit.
So is there anything for coffee-loving kids to worry about? As Stromberg explains in Smithsonian:
Theoretically, the closest thing we do have to evidence that caffeine affects growth is a series of studies on adults, which show that increased consumption of caffeinated beverages lead to the body absorbing slightly less calcium, which is necessary for bone growth. However, the effect is negligible: The calcium in a mere tablespoon of milk, it's estimated, is enough to offset the caffeine in eight ounces of coffee. Official NIH recommendations state that, paired with a diet sufficient in calcium, moderate caffeine consumption has no negative effects on bone formation.
Since caffeine is addictive and can lead to sleep disturbances and hyperactivity, feeding it to your children from any source (including soda and chocolate) probably isn't the very best idea. But there's no reason to believe coffee will stunt growth — so do your part to bust that myth the next time you hear it.
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