Data shows that a broad cross-section of kids ages 6 to 19 are not drinking any water as part of their daily fluid intake. In fact, a majority of children and teens are not drinking enough fluids in general and are walking around in a mildly dehydrated state, says a new study.
Postdoctoral researcher Erica Kenney at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and her colleagues retrieved information about children’s consumption of water from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHNES) and published their findings last week in the American Journal of Public Health, writes Richard Harris for NPR.
At first, the Harvard study was based on the consumption of sugary drinks in schools and the ways in which kids could be steered to drinking water instead. After the study began, they found that children were not drinking much fluid at all and they wondered if that was creating problems.
The NHNES includes testing of urine that revealed whether the participants are hydrated. The report showed that more than half of the thousands of students studied between 2009 and 2012 were somewhat dehydrated.
“This doesn’t mean we’re saying kids are dropping like flies or that they’re very seriously dehydrated and need to go to the hospital or anything like that,” Kenney says. “But even mild dehydration can affect children’s fatigue levels, mood and possibly their ability to learn,” she says.
Kenny was concerned when the study showed many children drink no water at all and those who did drink water were not drinking very much of it. The Institute of Medicine says children and teenagers should be drinking around two to three quarts (48-72 oz.) of water daily, which includes water in food, juicy fruits, and vegetables, based on age, size and sex. Research suggests that adolescent boys normally need to drink more water than girls.
Some schools have had trouble providing tap water to students because of infrastructure with aging plumbing, along with concerns about lead in the water. Some schools offer bottled water, but it is an expensive solution and the mechanics of serving it are difficult.
“There’s a lot of research out there to suggest that even mild levels of dehydration are enough to impact cognitive functioning and mood in kids,” Kenney says.
Long-term and severe dehydration can result in serious health problems with circulation, metabolism, temperature regulation, and waste removal, but even mild levels of dehydration can lead to headaches, dry mouth, dizziness, irritability, increased heart rate, and poorer physical performance, writes Ashley Welch of CBS News.
Senior author Steven Gortmaker, a professor of the practice of health sociology, says the solution to this public health problem is simple: focus on helping children drink more water.
Robert Preidt, reporting for HealthDay, quotes an expert in in child health on the importance of hydration:
“Children can be more susceptible to dehydration than adults,” said Nancy Copperman, who directs public health initiatives at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.
That, “coupled with an already impaired hydration status, can have physiological problems such as [neurological] issues, increased demands on their kidneys and heat stroke,” she explained.
It could be that children do not ingest enough water while they are at school because they prefer not to use the bathrooms at school, possibly because of lack of privacy, embarrassment, or even bullying.
Copperman also suggested that water sent to school in students’ lunch boxes should be frozen so that is is cold when lunchtime rolls around. She adds that thirst is not a good indicator of the need for water, so parents should make sure kids have access to water throughout the day.
Also, water infused with fruit, cucumbers, or mint makes water more appealing to children.