Medical Mysteries

Coffee and Health

Written by Fred Hilton

Go ahead. Fill up that sippy cup with coffee

The earliest reliable evidence of coffee drinking goes back to the middle of the 15th century in the Middle East. Coffee grew in popularity in America during the Revolutionary War—given a boost when the Sons of Liberty dumped 342 crates of British tea into the Boston Harbor. Americans have been hooked ever since.

One tradition surrounding coffee has been solidly in place for nearly 100 years. A little kid, seeing Mommy and Daddy enjoying their coffee, asks for a sip. “No way!” little kid is told. “It’ll stunt your growth!”

It won’t. Heavy-hitter sources like The New York Times, Harvard University, and the Smithsonian Institute all agree the coffee-stunting-growth bit is bogus.

Writing in the Times, Anahad O’Connor says: “After decades of research on the physiological results of coffee consumption, there is no evidence that it has any effect on height…Coffee will not stunt growth.”
A study by the Harvard Medical School says: “Whether or not coffee turns out to have significant health benefits, this popular beverage doesn’t stunt your growth. Your height is largely determined by the height of your parents and the quality of your diet and overall health while growing.”

Smithsonian magazine agrees: “As much as we hate to give argumentative kids more ammo in undermining their parents, we love dispelling cherished scientific misconceptions. Despite decades of research into the effects of coffee drinking, there is absolutely no evidence that it stunts kids’ growth.” The magazine cites Mark Pendergrast, the author of “Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World,” who writes, “To my knowledge, no one has ever turned up evidence that drinking coffee has any effect on how much children grow.”

Modern concerns about coffee’s health effects go back to the early 20th century, when an advertising campaign for a caffeine-free coffee alternative, Postum, vilified coffee for a variety of claimed health hazards. Postum was also marketed as a kid-friendly hot beverage. Postum claimed that coffee should never be served to children because it made them sluggish, irritable, and sleepless. A 1933 advertisement claimed, “it hampers proper development and growth.”

The notion that coffee is unfit for children—and, specifically, that it stunts their growth—worked its way into the country’s cultural consciousness despite a total lack of scientific evidence.

Coffee won’t stunt your child’s growth, but do you really want a kid who’s even more wired than usual?

“The Claim: Drinking Coffee Can Stunt a Child’s Growth,” by Anahad O’Connor, the New York Times, Oct. 18, 2005.
“Is it true that caffeine can stunt a child’ growth?” by the BabyCenter editorial team.
“Can Coffee Really Stunt Your Growth?,” Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, July 2015.
“It’s a Myth: There’s No Evidence That Coffee Stunts Kids’ Growth,” by Joseph Stromberg,, Smithsonian magazine, Dec. 20, 2013.
“Does Coffee Stunt your Growth?,”




About the author

Fred Hilton

Fred Hilton spent thirty-six years as the chief public relations officer/spokesman for James Madison University in Virginia and ten years prior as a reporter and editor for The Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Virginia. He is now happily retired in The Villages with his interior designer wife, Leta, their Cadillac Escalade golf cart, and their dog, Paris. (Yes, that makes her Paris Hilton).

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