Health Answers

Does caffeine really stunt adolescents' growth?

By Courtney Humphries
October 11, 2010

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Q. Does caffeine really stunt adolescents’ growth? Does it have other dangerous health effects on young people?

A. “There’s no good evidence that caffeine itself affects growth,’’ says Dr. Laurie Cohen, director of the neuroendocrinology program at Children’s Hospital Boston. Cohen says that it’s possible, however, that caffeine could indirectly influence proper growth and development if consuming it leads to significant sleep deprivation. That’s because growth hormone is secreted during the night during sleep, so kids who have major disturbances in sleep could potentially have impaired activity of this important hormone.

In fact, most of the negative effects of caffeine on kids’ health are related to the impact it can have on sleep. Kids need more sleep than adults, and Cohen notes that getting the proper amount of sleep is important for their performance in school and overall health. Consuming too much caffeine could interfere with normal sleep patterns. A 2006 study, for instance, found that adolescents who reported high caffeine consumption were also more likely to feel tired in the morning and have difficulty sleeping.

Furthermore, Cohen says, “there’s evidence that poor quality sleep may be associated with weight problems.’’ Sweetened sodas, a major caffeine source for kids, have also been shown to contribute to childhood obesity. Cohen says that caffeine could also have negative effects on behavior, making kids restless and impairing concentration.

So while caffeine’s negative effects on growth aren’t as direct of an influence as some might believe, there are still sound reasons to limit or moderate caffeine consumption in kids and teens. Cohen recommends paying attention to any sleep disturbances or tiredness during the day and its possible link to caffeine. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that children and adolescents not consume caffeinated foods and beverages within six hours of bedtime.

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