Articles and Advice

Drink Up! — The Importance of Water for Children

Did you know:

  • Water makes up 80% of the brain and is essential in the transmission of neurological signals
  • When we are thirsty, mental performance deteriorates by 10%
  • 70 – 75% of a typical newborn’s body weight is water
  • Everyone should drink at least 1/2 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day, more if you will be exercising strenuously
  • If a child is thirsty, he or she is already far behind in fluid intake. Feelings of thirst lag behind physical symptoms

According to a study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, more than 70% of preschool children never drink plain water. Experts believe this alarming trend is influenced by a cultural shift toward juices and sugary or caffeinated drinks. Children, who are influenced by adult models, imitate preferences for sweeter drinks.

Drinking water is directly linked to health in a number of important ways. First, water is needed to protect physical health and wellbeing. Hydration is essential to disease prevention and can diminish such health problems as headaches, bladder, kidney and bowel problems, and cancers of many types. Second, water, rather than drinks made with sugar, fruit juice, acids, caffeine or sugar substitutes, has no association with the health problems linked to obesity. Many experts believe that sugar-filled drinks and sweet juices are a major contributor to childhood obesity. Finally, water is needed for optimum mental functioning and learning. Children concentrate better when they are not distracted by the effects of dehydration such as headaches, tiredness and irritability. In fact, one study among school age children reported a dramatic decrease in challenging classroom behavior when water was offered and encouraged three to four times throughout the day (in addition to meal times).

The implications of this information for classroom teachers are important. Teachers play a critical role in helping children maintain their health and in developing healthy habits that will last a lifetime. To do this, teachers should:

  • Be a good role model. Drink water, rather than sugar-based or caffeinated beverages, throughout the day and at meals.
  • Offer and encourage water throughout the day. Remember, 1/2 ounce of water per pound of body weight is the rule of thumb. Children, who often exert themselves throughout the day, require even more!
  • Watch for signs of thirst and dehydration including headache, lethargy, irritability or inability to concentrate. Encourage children to drink water throughout the day even if not overtly thirsty to stave off symptoms associated with thirst.
  • Discourage sugar-based drinks including sports drinks in place of water consumption. Sometimes school age children think sports drinks are 'healthy.' And, while these drinks have a role to play, they are not a water substitute.

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