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Surprising Science

Kids Face Mental & Emotional Health Risks From Dehydration

How can we get kids to drink more water?

Eat your vegetables. Drink your water. They’re the classic commands of any young child’s parent, but at least one of them doesn’t seem to be getting through. A Harvard study found that more than half of all children in the United States aren’t reaching the hydration levels that they should. That may not sound overly alarming, but inadequate hydration can mean more than just a dry mouth and a sore throat. According to the study, dehydration in children can inhibit the body’s mental and emotional processes from working correctly.

“These findings are significant because they highlight a potential health issue that has not been given a whole lot of attention in the past,” said Erica Kenney, a research fellow of social and behavioral sciences. “Even though for most of these kids this is not an immediate, dramatic health threat, this is an issue that could really be reducing quality of life and well-being for many, many children and youth.”

The study noted some divisions along racial and gender lines. Boys and African-American children were found to have higher-than-average levels of dehydration. But the most shocking detail to emerge from the study is that 25 percent of the children reported not drinking any water at all.

Clearly, water is a tough sell for kids. It looks plain, doesn’t taste like much of anything, and, apart from the bottled variety, doesn’t give people much reason to spend their money marketing it. There are attachments out there than can transform your boring faucet into a duck or a frog, with water running out of its mouth. Plus, kids don’t really comprehend their bodies’ responses to the drinks they consume. They don’t necessarily understand that high-sugar juice drinks can make them way too hyper, or that caffeinated sodas will send them crashing down after a quick buzz (and dehydrate them as well). More importantly, they might not care.

Can kids be convinced to give up colorful, tasty fruit punches and sodas for a much less exciting alternative? Unless their parents are very conscientious, it’s a huge challenge. But a couple cute mascots — of the fish, dolphin, or whale variety — couldn’t hurt. And don’t underestimate the ability of the Sesame Street cup to dress up any unappealing drink. For me, the best part about drinking water was using the dispenser in the refrigerator door. It’s hard to know which incentives kids would respond to, but for the sake of their health, it’s time for parents to get creative.

Visit EurekAlertfor more, and take a gander at this video from Marc Bessler on picky eaters:


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