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U.S. kids need to drink more water, study finds

Posted June 15, 2015

As temperatures rocket toward the triple digits, a new study finds that U.S. kids aren't drinking enough water.

The study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that more than half of all children and adolescents in the United States aren't getting enough hydration - likely because they aren't drinking enough water, according to a press release. That could lead to repercussions for their physical health and cognitive and emotional functioning, the release says. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health this month.

Boys were 76 percent more likely than girls, and non-Hispanic blacks were 34 percent more likely than non-Hispanic whites, to be inadequately hydrated, the release says.

“These findings are significant because they highlight a potential health issue that has not been given a whole lot of attention in the past,” said lead author Erica Kenney, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard Chan School, in the release. “Even though for most of these kids this is not an immediate, dramatic health threat, this is an issue that could really be reducing quality of life and well-being for many, many children and youth.”

The researchers looked at data from more than 4,000 kids ages 6 to 19 who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey included a look at how concentrated a person's urine is, a telltale sign of whether or not they are dehydrated. About a quarter of kids reported drinking no plain water.

Drinking water is important for physical health. It aids in circulation, metabolism, temperature regulation and waste removal, the release said. Dehydration, though, can lead to other issues such as headaches, irritability, poorer physical performance and even reduced cognitive functioning.

"The good news is that this is a public health problem with a simple solution,” said senior author Steven Gortmaker, professor of the practice of health sociology, in the release. “If we can focus on helping children drink more water — a low-cost, no-calorie beverage — we can improve their hydration status, which may allow many children to feel better throughout the day and do better in school.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should drink and not feel thirsty before any outdoor physical activity. Kids should take a break to drink every 20 minutes while active in the heat - about five ounces for a child weighing 88 pounds and nine ounces for a teen weighing 132 pounds. The total amount of water necessary for a child depends, in part, on their size and activity. The goal is for their urine to be clear or pale yellow.

How can we get kids to drink more water?

  • Make it part of your daily routine. I know one mom who has her kids start off the day by drinking a cup of water as part of their normal morning routine. It's important as a good breakfast or brushing their teeth.
  • Drink a lot of water yourself. I tend to carry around a cup or bottle of it when I'm out and about. My kids see me drinking lots of water. They do too.
  • Put some fruit in it. A few slices of strawberry, lemon, orange or even cucumber help flavor the water just a bit and make for a nice reward when it's all done.
  • Skip the sugary juices. They're full of empty calories and are too high in sugar. At my house, water (and, at meals, milk) is the go-to drink. Juice is for special occasions.

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