Body Work: Is decaf OK for kids?

Stephen Prescott and Adam Cohen: So what's a father to do? Is there any harm in letting my seventh-grade sophisticate have a cup of (decaf) joe?
BY STEPHEN PRESCOTT AND ADAM COHEN For The Oklahoman Modified: August 26, 2013 at 1:06 am •  Published: August 27, 2013
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Adam's Journal

On a Saturday not long ago, my son, Theo, and I sidled up to the cafe counter at Barnes & Noble. Our customary weekend ritual involves lots of reading, accompanied by a sweet treat and something to wash it down with.

For as long as I can remember, Theo's go-to beverage has been skim milk with ice. The ice part always seemed weird to me. But on this particular day, Theo — in his most mature voice—ordered a “Decaf Cafe Americano.”

“Excuse me,” I said to my 12-year-old as the barista giggled, “but aren't you a little young to be drinking coffee?”

He told me that he'd picked up a taste for Cafe Americano — “It's watered-down espresso” — on a recent vacation with his grandfather. And he reminded me, “It's decaf, Dad.”

So what's a father to do? Is there any harm in letting my seventh-grade sophisticate have a cup of (decaf) joe?

Dr. Prescott Prescribes

Relax. An occasional cup of decaf poses no real health risks to a child. In fact, even caffeine in moderate amounts should not be grounds (ha!) for concern.

Despite its name, decaf does, in fact, contain caffeine. The amount, though, is quite small — a 7-ounce cup contains 3 milligrams. For comparison's sake, a regular cup of coffee contains 115 to 175 milligrams of caffeine, and many chocolate bars have about 30 milligrams.

Studies have not found evidence that moderate caffeine consumption harms children or adults. In particular, researchers have found no evidence of hyperactivity or increased risk of cancer, osteoporosis or heart disease.

Is it possible that if Theo develops a taste for decaf now that he'll later move into the world of fully caffeinated brews? Sure. But it's also quite possible that if you deny him now it will only stoke his thirst for coffee as he grows older. And, as I mentioned, moderate caffeine consumption hasn't been associated with health risks. In fact, in a study last year from the National Cancer Institute, folks who drank two to three cups of coffee a day were found to have significantly lower death rates over a 13-year period than their non-java-juiced counterparts.

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