What’s the Big Problem with Water?

by Christy Burger

We all know that drinking water is important for our health. Most people are unaware that they are slightly dehydrated. So why don’t we drink water? With all of the beverage options, why would someone want to drink just plain water? Coffee, soda, juice, smoothies, tea are just some of the more tasty and popular options. Our bodies are more than 72% water. Water is important for brain function, blood volume, muscle function and weight control. What is a concerning is the lack of water intake in our children.

A study published in the Archives of diseases noted at least 70% of children do not drink just plain water at all. As a part of my position with Teach a Kid to Fish, I work with day care centers within Lancaster County on nutrition and physical activity environments, policies and practices. In most of the centers I have worked with, there tends to be one thing missing from the menu, water! Children need between 1.7 to 3.3 Liters of water a day. When children do not get enough water in their diets, there is a reduction in their mental and physical performance. Just like in adults, being dehydrated or low in water causes headaches, irritability and sleepiness. Why would anyone want that?

A lot of the time, parents and care givers will serve milk or juice instead of water with meals and snacks. In most cases, this is because these food items are reimbursable by the Child and Adult Care Food program. 100% juice can be counted as a fruit, and milk can be counted as a dairy serving. Although these are great things for children to have, they can lead to some health and behavior issues when consumed in excess.  Juice (even 100% juice) is really high in sugar. Whole fruit is high in both fiber and sugar. Fiber is important for digestive health. It also helps keep children and adults fuller longer. When sugar is combined with fiber, the child tends to not experience a sugar rush.  Sugar rushes can lead to classroom behavior issues. Excess sugar can also cause cavities and excessive diarrhea. Just like in adults, we want children to eat (not drink) most of their calories. Our bodies also use water to process these beverages, leading to further dehydration and increasing the need for water. Additionally, children who do not drink enough water will start to confuse thirst with hunger. This can cause excessive weight gain as well as further dehydration.

It is very important that we encourage good health behaviors in children. Children need to drink plenty of water. This is especially important when playing outside. Try to encourage children to drink 8oz of water for every 15 minutes of outdoor play. Here are some tips on how to increase your child’s water intake.

  • Serve water cold
  • Try adding fruit to water to add some flavor
  • Give children unlimited access to water
  • Remind children to drink water every 15 minutes during outdoor play or physical activity
  • Use fun drinking glasses and/or straws
  • Serve water with every meal in addition to other beverages being served
  • Cut or dilute juices with water
  • Eat water rich foods like watermelon
  • Try fun shaped ice cubes
  • Talk about the benefits of drinking water with kids
  • Role model good water habits
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