Getting children to drink enough water during the day is a difficult task for parents. With recent data finding that children who do not consume enough water are then more prone to afflictions like dry skin and dehydration, it becomes hard to know exactly how much water children should be drinking on a daily basis.
The Institute of Medicine suggests children between the ages of four and eight should consume around two quarts of water each day. As children grow, that amount should continually increase, with teenage boys needing 3.5 quarts while teenage girls need 2.4 quarts.
However, these recommendations do not take outdoor play into account, or the weather. Children need to drink more water when it is humid and hot outside.
“When children are outside and it’s hot and humid, they need to drink more,” says Stella Volpe, the Department of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University and member of the panel who set the recommendations for the amount water intake among toddlers. “Their sweating mechanisms aren’t as well developed as in adults so they could tend to overheat faster.”
Volpe said that while all liquids contained within beverages and food count toward a child’s daily fluid intake, parents should continue to push healthier beverages, with water being the best option for hydrating children.
Despite feelings that parents, coaches, and teachers are being overly-cautious about children’s water consumption, recent research has found that most children in the United States are mildly dehydrated.
While no specific calculations exist to help parents decipher exactly how much water their child needs to consume during the day when weather and exercise are taken into account, Dr. Kelsey Logan, director of the Division of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, says that the average child will drink water when they need to so long as it is available.
However, Logan goes on to say that regular water breaks need to be built into the schedule each day or children may forget to stop and take a drink, because they can become too involved in what they are doing.
For increasingly active children and those engaged in additional physical activities, it is suggested that their first beverage choice should always be water, as 12-ounce sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sports drinks and concentrated juices all contain an average of eight teaspoons of sugar. Dr. Patrice Evers added that only children who regularly participate in high-intensity sports for more than two hours at a time should reach for sports drinks, writes Abbie Kraft for The Parent Herald. In addition, it is suggested that only 100% juice be offered to children, and no more than one cup per day.
“Many parents think the first thing they should reach for is the sports drinks,” Evers, a pediatrician at Tulane University School of Medicine. “But really it should be water, unless your child is in the more elite athlete category.”
Evers continues to say that the first sign of dehydration in children is typically a decreased frequency in urination. She stressed that parents should ensure their children are urinating every four to five hours, reports Carolyn Beans for NPR.
Other signs of dehydration include dark-colored urine, dry lips, headaches, and a faster heart rate. In addition, a child who is typically energetic may display signs of lethargy.