If you’ve ever wondered whether your kids are getting the hydration they need, you are not alone. Recent research conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is a branch of the CDC, seems to suggest that children across America are not drinking enough water throughout the day. But there are a few problems with this finding.
The study itself, conducted in 2005 and 2006 and working with nearly 4,000 children, sounds good, but has several serious discrepancies. But before we get to the problems, let’s look at the study results. Responding children were broken down into age categories. So those between 2 and 5 were reported to drink an average of 1.4 liters (or about 6 cups) of water a day. Those in the 6- to 11-year-old age group reported an average of 1.6 liters each day. And the oldest children, between 12 and 19, reported an average of 2.4 liters per day.
The difficulties begin when the researchers make the leap to say that none of the children except those between the ages of 2 and 3 had an adequate daily intake of water. This definition of the “right” amount of water for children is highly disputable. Many credible sources say that this amount — 6 to 8 cups daily — is actually just the quantity that a child’s body needs unless it’s extremely hot outside or they are exercising for a prolonged period of time. Only for teenage boys, starting around the age of 14, are the requirements somewhat higher. The suggested amount for that population is 2.6 liters daily, which, according to the study, means they are only missing the mark by less than one cup each day.
Of course, water is essential, as it is the single largest component of our bodies, contributing 60 percent of our total weight. It helps to rid our vital organs of toxins that can build up, brings essential nutrients to the cells throughout our beings, and keeps the mucous membranes moist and healthy.
That said, the second problem with the NHANES study is their recommendation that — since meals are typically the greatest source of beverage intake through the day — more water should be consumed while children are eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While it’s admirable to try to encourage children to drink more water, mealtime is not the right time to fill up on fluids. There is quite a bit of evidence that you should not drink too much of any beverage, even water, while eating because it can contribute to digestive issues. The more you drink during a meal, the more you dilute your stomach’s secretions. This causes the pH of the contents of your stomach to rise, triggering a production of more acid in an attempt to lower that pH back to a normal high acid level.
On top of that, the stomach, now distended from the volume of food and liquid, begins to push against the esophagus, forcing the contents back up the digestive tract. This is a primary factor is the onset of acid reflux disease and certainly not something that we want to bring on in our children!
Although less common in children, another ailment precipitated by drinking too much during meals is stomach ulcers. The acids of the stomach that kill such bacteria as H. pylori, which can produce ulcers, must be strong enough to do their job correctly. If stomach acid is diminished for any reason (such as regular use of proton pump inhibitors, excessive use of antacids, or regular consumption of large amounts of liquids with meals), this can allow the bacteria the opportunity to survive long enough to establish themselves in the mucosal lining protected from stomach acid. Therefore, the more children, or anyone for that matter, drinks with meals, the greater the likelihood that over time the lining of the stomach walls will be eroded and ulcers will develop.
Which brings us to the third and most serious problem. As the study points out, water can come from many sources besides plain water. According to the study, “The amount of water that came from plain water increased with age from 22% among those children aged 2 to 5 to 33% among 12- to 19-year-olds.” That means that 70+% percent of the so-called water kids were drinking in this study was in fact sodas, energy drinks, sugared juices, etc. Sugared drinks are not the same as pure water, despite their water content. Yes, the sugar is separated out during digestion, but it is still absorbed by the body with all of its health consequences. The bottom line is that drinking 2 liters of Red Bull does not produce the same hydrating results as drinking 2 liters of pure water — especially when you remember that caffeine is a diuretic. In other words, Red Bull makes you pee. It doesn’t hydrate you; it actually dehydrates you over time.
Given that information, we see that children are, in fact, severely dehydrated.