With summer upon us, we all need to drink enough pure water, for many reasons, including overall health and optimal weight loss, which we cover in detail here. How about kids? As it turns out, the majority of American children consume far too little pure water, which can hinder daily performance, learning ability, and general wellness.

Amazingly, many pediatricians agree that hydration in children may be optimal only in breastfed infants.1 One study found that while the amount of water U.S. children drink varies based on age, consumption tends to fall short of levels recommended by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. All children reviewed in the study─with the exception of toddlers─drank too little.

Interestingly, study participants who drank plain water during meals ate less, while skipping water resulted in more fat and calories being consumed. Study researchers encouraged the scaling back of sweetened and/or non-nutritive beverages in lieu of plain water for both snacks and meals.2

Why is it so crucial that kids hydrate properly?

Even mild dehydration can impair health, well being, learning and overall performance. And over time, a child may face an increased risk of more serious health issues like constipation, continence problems, kidney/urinary tract infections, and kidney stones. Conversely, proper hydration can lead to improved weight status, reduced dental caries and improved cognition among children/adolescents.3 Roughly translated, that means smarter, leaner kids with better dental health─all due to the simple act of drinking more water.

How can you tell if children are dehydrated?

Unfortunately, thirst is not always a reliable indicator. In fact, many kids may not realize they’re in need of fluids. Symptoms of mild dehydration may include irritability, fatigue, and inability to concentrate, as well as headaches. The appearance of urine is a good indicator. With poor fluid intake, urine becomes more concentrated/darker yellow in color, while properly hydrated kids will generally have light yellow-colored urine.

What can you do?

If most American children are drinking too little water for optimal health, what are they drinking instead? You guessed it: sodas, sports/energy drinks, flavored milk, coffee drinks, fruit juice, and sugar-sweetened, fruit-flavored drinks. The more available these options are, the more young people will generally tend to select them. The key is limiting sweetened drinks and making water readily available all day long.

A good game plan is to offer a glass in the morning, pack water along for school, and provide water, unsweetened sparkling water, and hot or iced decaf/herbal tea on a regular basis. Stevia-sweetened lemonade is a winning summer option. Clear soups and fresh produce with a high water content such as greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, oranges, and apples all help meet fluid requirements. Always encourage whole fruit over juice.

Kids learn their eating and drinking habits at home, so it’s often up to parents to set the healthy example. The good news is that in doing so, you’ll not only help boost the overall wellness of your child, but that of yourself and the entire family too.

1 J Am Coll Nutr. 2007 Oct;26(5 Suppl):562S-569S
2 Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Oct;92(4):887-96. Epub 2010 Aug 4
3 Am J Public Health. 2011 Jun 16. [Epub ahead of print]