The unexpected summer heatwave has shone the spotlight on our hydration habits. Independent Advisor to the Natural Hydration Council, Dr Emma Derbyshire offers a timely reminder that it is vital to keep children well hydrated for both their health and school performance:
Keeping children well hydrated is just as important to get right as providing a healthy balanced diet, especially when the weather is hot and muggy. Dehydration causes unpleasant symptoms such as irritability, lack of concentration and headaches –which can sometimes be wrongly attributed to hunger or a lack of sleep.
Thankfully achieving a sufficient level of hydration is relatively easy to do. However a recent survey carried out by Netmums and the Natural Hydration Council revealed that although parents were aware of the need for children to be well hydrated, many parents need help and guidance in this area.
The survey was carried out in two parts. One focus group interviewed 15 mums and the other was a larger survey interviewing over 1,000 Netmums members.
The survey found that:
o Around two thirds (63%) of parents were unsure of how much fluids their child/children should be drinking.
o Around 70% parents reported that their children were thirsty when they came home from school.
o More than 62% said their child’s school does not provide water throughout the day, with 64% reporting that water was banned from classrooms.
I find the survey fascinating as it uncovers some important gaps, namely that more needs to be done to make current fluid guidelines for children clearer. It appears that many parents find them a touch confusing.
Generally speaking, the amount of water a child needs depends on their age, gender, the weather and how much physical activity they do. As a useful guideline, it is generally advised that children, aged 4 – 13 should aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid a day. Younger children need relatively smaller drinks (e.g. 150 ml serving) and older children need larger drinks (e.g. 250–300 ml serving). This is in addition to the water provided by the food in their diet.
“But my child doesn’t like water” is an opinion expressed by many parents. Maybe… but the results of a trial carried out previously with school age children contradicts this. Over a two week period children were provided with bottled water and by the trial’s end they began to express positive opinions about water, saying things like “I felt more fresh”, “I felt more healthy and energetic” and “I felt more awake”. Children speak from the heart, so, I think it’s worth persisting in similar trials, until they start to develop a taste for water. Caregivers, including teachers and health professionals, have an important role to play in educating children and.or parents of the children about making the right beverage choices.
Here are some of my other other top tips:
o Children should aim to hydrate healthily with plain, natural drinks that are unsweetened and free from additives.
o Place a bottle of water in lunchboxes to encourage children to drink at lunch time.
o Parents and other caregivers should offer younger children drinks on a regular basis and actively encourage consumption.
o Children should aim to have 6-8 drinks per day which should ideally be water, milk or fruit/vegetable juices.
o Children taking part in sports need to replenish the lost fluids by drinking more water.
For further information read the Natural Hydration Council's Healthy Hydration guide for children, in collaboration with the British Nutrition Foundation at: http://naturalhydrationcouncil.org.uk/hydration-facts/healthy-hydration-glasses/