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Is your child getting enough to drink?

publication date: Oct 5, 2010
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author/source: Emma Derbyshire
Emma DerbyshireChildren are at greater risk of dehydration than adults due to their lower body weight and smaller reserve of body fluids. Equally, whilst adults often have easy access to a supply of water, children tend to rely on their caregivers to provide drinks and often don't recognise the early stages of thirst.

Research suggests that just a one to two per cent body weight loss can lead to significant reductions in concentration and mental performance. As a child's body is around 60 per cent water, it is important to keep them topped up with fluid during the day.

The effect of dehydration on mental function is not very well known about in children. Recent research showed that children offered extra water reported less thirst and performed better when visual attention tasks were carried out. This suggests that children's mental performance can be improved when they drink more water.

There is an important message for schools since it is often difficult for children to access water throughout the day. Teachers may need to be convinced about the positive role that adequate hydration plays in maintaining normal attention span and performance in schoolchildren.

Regular consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, including fruit juice drinks, has been linked to excess weight gain and obesity in children. The School Food Trust aims to encourage healthy hydration habits in children. They recommend that schools serve only plain, natural drinks such as water, milk and pure fruit/vegetable juices.

In summary, water is one of the most natural, healthy beverages that children can drink. Encouraging children to quench their thirst with water before offering other types of beverages will help children to develop a taste for water. This is the first step towards developing lifelong healthy preferences. Choosing to offer water instead of calorie-laden soft drinks can also help children to maintain a healthy body weight as they grow, as well as preventing dental decay and erosion. It is important that parents and care-givers make sure that young children are offered sufficient amounts of water to maintain optimal hydration. Parents of schoolchildren should encourage them to make use of any water supplied at school in order to support their children's mental performance during the day.

Top tips:
  • Children should aim to hydrate healthily with plain, natural drinks that are unsweetened and free from additives.
  • Limit empty calories by putting a bottle of water in lunchboxes instead of a sugary drink.
  • Parents and other caregivers should offer younger children drinks on a regular basis and actively encourage consumption.
  • Children should aim to have six to eight drinks per day which should ideally be water, milk or fruit/vegetable juices.
  • Children taking part in sports need to replenish the lost fluids by drinking more water.