Baby Buzz

Why are Boston tots drinking so much coffee?

toddlers drinking coffee

Photograph by Mariel Tenney

The new Starbucks order: a venti dark roast for me, and a bottle for the kid, please.

When Boston Medical Center researchers began examining children’s diets, they didn’t set out to document their caffeine intake. But as the 315 participating mothers divulged what they were feeding their infants and young toddlers—breast milk, formula, water, juice—one strange item kept popping up: coffee.

The resulting study, published in the Journal of Human Lactation this past February, found that in Boston, coffee-drinking toddlers are “not uncommon.” In fact, 2.5 percent of one-year-olds were found to have consumed the beverage; for two-year-olds, that number increased to approximately 15 percent, with average daily consumption at 1.09 ounces.

According to BMC researchers, the U.S. does not have specific guidelines for kids and coffee, but previous studies have associated juvenile java consumption with depression, sleep disturbances, type 1 diabetes, substance abuse, and obesity. So why, then, are pint-size cuppas so prevalent? Maternal ethnicity seems to play a large role: In Hispanic cultures and in countries such as Cambodia, Australia, and Ethiopia, it’s common for children to be given coffee, previous international studies have reported.

The BMC research backs that up. “Our results show that many infants and toddlers in Boston—and perhaps in the U.S.—are being given coffee, and that this could be associated with cultural practices,” says the study’s principal investigator, Anne Merewood, director of the Breastfeeding Center at BMC and associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. Specifically, the study found that infants and toddlers of Hispanic mothers were more likely to drink coffee than those of non-Hispanic mothers. Another variable appeared to be gender: Female infants and toddlers were more likely than males to be given coffee.

So is it okay to swap Junior’s milk for a bottle of cold brew? The jury’s still out—for now. But it’s safe to say that hopping your kid up on caffeine could make for some unpleasant bedtime routines.

“Given what the current data shows about the effects of coffee consumption among children and adolescents, additional research is needed to better determine the potential short- and long-term health implications of coffee consumption among this younger age group in Hispanic and other populations,” Merewood says.