Your Kids Are Probably Dehydrated. What’s It Doing to Them?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Linda Bobroff, PhD, RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Like most moms I know, I sometimes have days when I get frustrated and feel like I’m not doing a great job at teaching good habits to my children. (Why are these wet towels still on the bathroom floor? What do you mean, it’s due tomorrow? You forgot your lunchbox again??)

Still, there are at least a couple of areas where I feel like we’re doing pretty well. One of these is getting our kids in the habit of drinking adequate water (and for the most part, only water). As a matter of fact, they even tend to get a little antsy if we’re out somewhere and they don’t have reusable water bottles close at hand.

Mild Dehydration a Problem? Yes

However, a recent report in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that my water-loving children are probably in the minority–and this may be a problem. While serious dehydration is, of course, quite dangerous, research also tells us that mild dehydration can have negative physical and mental effects, including irritability, headaches, poor concentration, and mental “fogginess.” Studies have even linked mild dehydration to reduced performance on cognitive testing.

4000 Children and Teens Surveyed

This study set out to see how “average” kids are doing on a day-to-day basis in terms of hydration. Researchers measured the total food and beverage intake of over 4000 children and teens between the ages of 6 and 19, using a 24-hour recall method. (Interviewers helped the younger children fill out the recall forms.) The researchers also tested the children’s urine to get an idea of how hydrated or dehydrated they were.

Over Half Were Poorly Hydrated

Based on findings from the urine test, about 54% of these children and teens were inadequately hydrated. (In fact, about a quarter reported drinking no plain water at all in the 24 hours they reported on!) Black children and boys were noticeably more at risk of being poorly hydrated than girls and white children. However, children and teens who reported consuming more servings of water (but not other drinks) were less likely to be inadequately hydrated.

These young people’s level of hydration was as low as or lower than the level found to cause poor test performance in other studies. In other words, these findings could have real significance for children.

Focus on Water at Home and School

What can parents do? While it’s very important to get your children in the habit of drinking adequate water at home, (focus on water as the primary beverage!) what and how much they drink at school and daycare are important, too. By law, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program must provide free drinking water. However, this often isn’t done well. Check with your child’s school and take a look at your school or district’s Wellness Policy. (A policy is required for all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program.) A simple change such as providing water coolers and cups or installing drinking fountains equipped with bottle-refilling attachments can make a big difference. For more, visit the resources in Further Reading.

Further Reading:

You Are What You Drink

Water and Nutrition

Choose MyPlate: Drink Water Instead of Sugary Drinks–from UF-IFAS EDIS

Hydration Myths–from UF-IFAS EDIS

Water Access in School

Water in Schools

Improving Access to Drinking Water in School


Kenney, E. L., Wong, M. W., Cradock, A. L., & Gortmaker, S. L. (2015). Prevalence of Inadequate Hydration Among US Children and Disparities by Gender and Race/Ethnicity: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009–2012. American Journal of Public Health. Advance online publication.

Photo Credits: Bignai/iStock/Thinkstock


Posted: June 23, 2015

Category: Health & Nutrition, Work & Life
Tags: Health And Wellness, Nutrition And Food Systems, Parenting

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