While it may seem that kids are downing a lot of soft drinks and teenagers happily grab lattes and energy drinks, the reality is that U.S. children and teens are not drinking enough. That shortage applies to all liquids and especially water. This perpetual dehydration increases their risk for physical, emotional, and mental problems.
More than half of U.S. children and adolescents do not consume enough water or other drinks, according to new research. About 54.5 percent of young people between the ages of 6 to 19 are inadequately hydrated, according to the standards used in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study, which was published on June 11 by the American Journal of Public Health.
The Harvard researchers studied data on over 4,100 children from various racial and ethnic groups gathered between 2009 and 2012. The data, provided by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was on the urine samples gathered from the children. The research team considered a child to be inadequately hydrated if the urine concentration was a level that other studies have tied to sluggish thinking and mood changes.
To determine the concentration level of the urine of for each child, the team used urine osmolality. This deals with how much of the urine was water as opposed to other bodily wastes, which can be seen in the color of the urine. Ever notice that it is darker in the morning on an empty stomach and lighter about an hour after downing a bottle of water? Urine from a well-hydrated person is a pale yellow color and less concentrated, but when someone is dehydrated, such as first thing in the morning or going a long period without a drink, it is a darker yellow.
Besides analyzes quantity of liquid in the urine, the study also looked at what the children drank. Large quantities of both water and sugary drinks were the most common, and were showed more in those with less concentrated urine.
The good news was that while many kids were not drinking enough beverages, most children were not seriously dehydrated. The bad news was that the team found that approximately 22 percent of the children and teens were not drinking plain water at all. However, they determined that the average child drank about three 8 oz. cups of water each day, along with two beverages sweetened with sugar and one serving of milk. The kids gleaned 21 percent of their fluids from foods, such as melons, citrus, celery, soups and other fruits and vegetables.
An additional finding was that while boys were more likely than girls to be poorly hydrated. Furthermore, black children were more likely than those of other races to have highly concentrated urine.
The lead study author, Erica Kenney, postdoctoral research fellow, noted that the significance of the findings are that the research highlighted “a potential health issue that has not been given a whole lot of attention in the past.” While the children are not in serious health danger, the hydration shortfall can lead to headaches, irritability, sleepiness, poor physical and academic performance and other effects.
When kids or adults are thirsty, water is a better choice for drinking than sodas or other sugary beveridges. But, with the evidence that children are not drinking enough liquids, any effort to improve hydration is better than none.
By Dyanne Weiss
American Journal of Public Health: Prevalence of Inadequate Hydration Among US Children and Disparities by Gender and Race/Ethnicity: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009–2012
Science World Report: Water and Health:
NPR: Got Water? Most Kids, Teens Don’t Drink Enough
USA Today: Researchers to kids: Drink more water