…Or maybe mom just didn’t want to share her latte with you.
“You can’t have any or it’ll stunt your growth,” every well-meaning mom with a Starbucks cup says to her curious kid at some point. “You want to be tall like your brother, right?”
Researchers have studied coffee’s role in your height and bone health from two primary angles: whether it limits children’s growth and whether it causes older adults to “shrink.” It turns out, mom wasn’t totally right on this one—but the science is a little messy.
Let’s back up. A 1994 study concluded that postmenopausal women who consumed higher intakes of caffeine (equivalent to 18 ounces of coffee a day) had greater bone loss than women in the low-caffeine group. That’d be a cause for concern given osteoporosis affects 55 percent of American adults over age 50, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. (Learn risk factors for osteoporosis here.)
But hang on: Other studies revealed that coffee drinking affected bone health only for participants on low-calcium diets. For example, when 330 boys were separated into three subgroups based on how much coffee they drank, a 2016 study found no significant difference in their height or body weight, regardless of their calcium intake. Another 1994 study found that daily milk consumption offset any effects of coffee on bone density. In other words, the science doesn’t hold up once you consider other factors.
It’s tough to tell if any bone loss from drinking coffee is directly could be caused by your morning java—or if it’s because coffee drinkers in the studies tend to have diets that are overall lower in calcium, which is found in dairy, leafy greens, and beans. Here are top food sources of calcium to boost bone health.
One other thing to note: Drinking caffeine at night (whether coffee or soda) could affect sleep quality, and depriving yourself of precious snooze time can affect your bone mass and development. A study from Pediatrics found that higher caffeine intake was associated with shorter duration of sleep in American middle school students.
Moral of the story? Your 12-year-old should be okay having a pumpkin spice latte at noon, as long as she’s still able to get nine to 11 hours of sleep later, as recommended for children ages 6 to 13 by the National Sleep Foundation. (Here’s how much sleep you need for your age.)
Most researchers agree that following a bone-healthy lifestyle—like exercising, getting adequate sleep, and eating a high-calcium diet as well as foods rich in vitamin D and high-magnesium foods—ensures that you can have your coffee and drink it, too.
Choi MK, Kim MH. The association between coffee consumption and bone status in young adult males according to calcium intake level. Clin Nutr Res. 2016 Jul;5(3):180-9.
Does coffee stunt your growth? Wilmington, DE: KidsHealth, 2013. (Accessed on March 1, 2018 at http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/coffee.html.)
Facts and statistics. Nyon, Switzerland: International Osteoporosis Foundation. (Accessed on March 1, 2018 at https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics.)
National Sleep Foundation recommends new sleep times. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on March 1, 2018 at https://sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times/page/0/1.)
Pollak CP, Bright D. Caffeine consumption and weekly sleep patterns in US seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-graders. Pediatrics. 2003 Jan;111(1):42-6.
Rapuri PB, Gallagher JC, Kinyamu HK, Ryschon KL. Caffeine intake increases the rate of bone loss in elderly women and interacts with vitamin D receptor genotypes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Nov;74(5):694-700.
Temple JL. Caffeine use in children: what we know, what we have left to learn, and why we should worry. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2009 Jun;33(6):793-806.
Xu X, Wang L, Chen L, Su T, Zhang Y, Wang T, et al. Effects of chronic sleep deprivation on bone mass and bone metabolism in rats. J Orthop Surg Res. 2016;11:87.