The Link Between Easy Access to Water and Healthier Children

Researchers from Stanford University sought to evaluate the impact of school programs that actively encourage children to keep hydrated throughout the day.
The Link Between Easy Access to Water and Healthier Children
John Mac Ghlionn
In the United States, close to 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 (16.1 percent) are overweight.

What can be done? Give them all Ozempic?

No, of course not. Instead, we should focus on keeping them hydrated. Not just at home, but also at school. After all, children spend an average of 1,170 hours at school throughout the year.
Whether you happen to be an elite runner or more of a couch potato, the importance of keeping hydrated can't be emphasized enough. The link between dehydration and weight gain is well known. Dehydration slows a person’s metabolism, meaning his or her body can't burn calories as efficiently as it should.
When our bodies are dehydrated, we lack energy, and we feel tired. When we feel tired—exhausted even—we're more likely to make poorer decisions. Willpower diminishes, and the chances of eating unhealthy food increases. Moreover, many people resort to eating to replenish this loss of energy, when, in reality, a couple of glasses of water is what they really needed.
A great article in the Seattle Times discussed the symptoms of mild dehydration (headache, fatigue, lightheadedness, difficulty concentrating, etc.) and how they sometimes “resemble symptoms of hunger.”

“Many people experience the 'classic' hunger cues of a growling or empty-feeling stomach,”  the piece noted.

In other words, they mistake dehydration for hunger.

Across the country, studies have shown that more than half of all children and adolescents in school classrooms aren’t hydrated enough. Interestingly, according to a study carried out by Harvard-based researchers, boys are 76 percent more likely than girls “to be inadequately hydrated.”

More recently, researchers from Stanford University sought to evaluate the effects of school programs that actively encourage children to keep hydrated throughout the day.

Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of such programs. The researchers followed 1,058 fourth-grade students in Northern California for 15 months. Students were split into two groups: The first participated in the active hydration program (known as "Water First"); the second group had normal access to drinking water, but wasn’t actively reminded to stay hydrated.

Importantly, the students in the Water First group were supplied with refillable cups and bottles. In addition, they were taught about the importance of drinking water. The study showed a clear reduction in the prevalence of overweight children among those in this specific group—but not in the other group.

Dr. Anisha Patel, a professor at Stanford’’s Department of Pediatrics and one of the authors of the paper, said that “we already know that children and adolescents who drink less plain water drink more sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB)."

“Intake of SSBs,” she added, “is a major contributor to obesity.”

She’s right; it is. As researchers out of Harvard have noted, there's plenty of scientific evidence to suggest “that decreasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption will reduce the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases.”

“Unfortunately,” they concluded, “sugary beverages are a regular drink of choice for millions around the world, and a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.”

In the United States, according to Dr. Patel, “1 in 5 children do not drink any plain water during the day. Also, 1 in 2 school-aged children are under-hydrated.”

That's an important point, as hydration is directly associated with cognitive function. As I mentioned earlier, poorer hydration disrupts the decision-making process. It also negatively affects our ability to store and retrieve information. A dehydrated child is ill-equipped to cope with the rigors of a typical school day.

Dr. Patel said the Water First program “provides a relatively low-cost strategy for preventing unhealthy weight gain in elementary school children.”

“Given the numerous benefits of drinking water in lieu of sugary drinks for overall health and learning,” she concluded, “improving access to safe drinking water in schools and promoting its intake is a win for students, parents, and schools.”

Sadly, in schools across the land, access to actual drinkable water is nowhere near as easy as it should be. Researchers have found that, in many U.S. schools, access to clean, safe, free drinking water is limited. Furthermore, according to the authors, “compliance with state and federal policies to establish free drinking water access" appears to be low.

As obvious as it sounds, things need to change, and fast. For healthier, happier children, access to clean drinking water is a must.

Teachers must also be taught about the importance of hydration, so they can effectively pass on the message to children.

Finally, and this is a vitally important point, the key to keeping children hydrated involves water—not sodas or fruit juice. Although fruit juice is a staple of kids’ diets in the United States, it's no substitute for clean, drinkable water. It is, more often than not, loaded with unhealthy sugars. Water–and only water—is the key to ensuring our children are healthier, both physically and mentally.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. He covers psychology and social relations, and has a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation. His work has been published by the New York Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, and The Spectator US, among others.