Amanda Norcross • May 12, 2021
Coffee has many health benefits. But can it stunt your growth? We talked to Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND, and looked at science-backed studies to answer this common question.
Stunted growth can only occur in fetuses and children, since adults are fully grown. For that reason, most studies related to caffeine and its impact on growth have been conducted on children. "These studies have focused on fetal growth, that is, investigating growth restriction, with a focus on caffeine, not coffee specifically," explains Ayoob. "And most of those studies have found no connection between caffeine intake and fetal growth restriction up to a level of 300 mg per day." (For reference, 300 mg is about three cups of coffee.)
Some studies have found a modest association between caffeine intake and small-for-gestational-age births. "But keep in mind, there can be confounding variables that muddy the results here, as most of the information is self-reported," says Ayoob.
As for kids, intake below 2.5 mg/kg of body weight is considered safe. Studies have focused on other issues aside from growth, such as blood pressure and sleep behavior. It's also worth noting that coffee consumption by children is minimal," says Ayoob. "Their caffeine intake is primarily from soda (cola especially)."
Caffeine can interfere with calcium absorption, which could interfere with proper growth (although not necessarily stunting) and bone density in kids. "But they'd have to be drinking coffee or getting caffeine to excess and for a long time," says Ayoob. "Because of the stimulant effect, I recommend that kids wanting coffee get it in decaffeinated form." He says decaffeinated coffee drinks with added milk can be a good way for teens to get extra calcium, vitamin D, and potassium—three nutrients of real concern in teens (and adults).
In his research, Ayoob hasn't come across studies indicating issues with growth related to decaf coffee consumption.