Keeping hydration up in the dog-days of summer and first weeks of back-to-school
Kids. Water. Fruits. Vegetables.
In this series of words, which does not belong? Of course, we could evaluate them by various forms of reasoning (i.e. kids contain a high level of water) but in their natural form we probably don’t see them together very often. Other than running through fountains or playing at the pool, most kids are not looking for water for consumption purposes. Fruits and vegetables, high water containing foods, are also not often in high demand by kids, particularly not things like cucumbers, celery, Iceberg lettuce, and cauliflower.
Water is essential for every human body, and particularly so for active kids. Active children are even more susceptible to dehydration than adults when exposed to hot weather and produce more heat per pound of body weight than adults. Because they also have a lower sweating capacity, this puts them more at risk for heat exhaustion as well, as sweat is essential for keeping the body cool. Children often lack the desire to drink unflavored beverages, even when exercising when the demand for fluid intake is high. Even the consumption of flavored water with electrolytes and a low level of carbohydrates (the common things found in sport hydration beverages) was shown to be inadequate to prevent mild dehydrating in exercising young athletes. And not only that, even group education of athletes about the importance of drinking water has been shown to be ineffective in changing hydration behaviors and ensuring adequate hydration.
So how can we get children and young adults to drink more water?
There are many different strategies to help ensure children and young adults are getting enough water. And they don’t include buying sugar-flavored beverages or fruit juices, which are both contributors to the fast-growing epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes.,
- Start ‘em young. Young brains are very plastic and trainable, and behaviors they learn while young are likely to stay with them.
- Get them a favorite water bottle or container that they pick out. There even are child backpacks that can store water containers that kids can drink from while they are wearing them, camel-style, much like those intended for adults. One mother in my practice had purchased an item like this for her four-year-old son, and found that on their first hike with it he had to go to the bathroom three times – which definitely meant he was drinking enough water!
- Drink more water yourself! If your kids see you toting around a beverage other than water all day (or nothing for that matter), why would they ask for water? Modeling a behavior is one way to encourage the same things in your kids. How many times have you heard your child repeat the exact thing you just said? The same thing will go for their behaviors!
- Make your own flavored water. Pick a fruit that your child likes such as strawberries or blueberries with lemon or lemon juice and put it in a large container of water to infuse the night before. If necessary, sweeten with a bit of stevia or xylitol, which do not adversely impact the blood sugar. There are also many recipes online for homemade electrolyte solutions that include three parts water and one part fruit juice (freshly-squeezed) combined with a bit of honey, lime or lemon juice, and a small amount of salt. Coconut water can also be used to provide additional essential electrolytes.
- Consider some bubbly water. We all like a bit of bubbles at times for a little pick-me-up. Lightly sweetened spritzers and carbonated water can provide fluids and a change of pace, from regular, boring old water!
- Start the day with a smoothie or make a smoothie for a snack. This is also one way to sneak more fruits and vegetables into your child’s day. Consider smoothie ingredients such as unsweetened almond or other non-dairy milk, strawberries, blueberries, apples, and spinach, balanced out with a hypoallergenic protein powder (such as unsweetened pea protein) and healthy fat like avocado or a nut butter to prevent blood sugar spikes.
These are just a few ideas to consider implementing as you try to get your kids (and possibly yourself) to drink some more water through the day. Having a conversation with your child about how water is important, and talking with them one-on-one about times during the day when they could try to drink water (for instance, in their breaks at school and before and after exercise practice) can help things improve as well.
Click here to see References
 Bar-Or, O. Temperature regulation during exercise in children and adolescents. Perspectives in Exercise and Sports Medicine, II. Youth, Exercise and Sport. Gisolfi, C., and D.R. Lamb (Editors), Indianapolis: Benchmark Press, 1989, pp. 335-367.
 Rivera-Brown AM, et al. Drink composition, voluntary drinking, and fluid balance in exercising, trained, heat-acclimatized boys. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1999 Jan;86(1):78-84.
 Rivera-Brown AM, et al. Voluntary drinking and hydration in trained, heat-acclimatized girls exercising in a hot and humid climate. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2008 May;103(1):109-16.
 Cleary MA, et al. Hydration behaviors before and after an educational and prescribed hydration intervention in adolescent athletes. J Athl Train. 2012 May-Jun;47(3):273-81.
 Alberti G, et al. Type 2 diabetes in the young: the evolving epidemic: the international diabetes federation consensus workshop. Diabetes Care. 2004 Jul;27(7):1798-811.
 Ludwig DS, et al. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet. 2001 Feb 17;357(9255):505-8.
 Rosenzweig MR, Bennett EL. Psychobiology of plasticity: effects of training and experience on brain and behavior. Behav Brain Res. 1996 Jun;78(1):57-65.