Water, water everywhere and not a drop is drunk – in many families anyway. They’ll swim in it, wash with it, squirt it at each other, but when it comes to quenching their thirst, a measly 19 per cent of
children will choose it. And this rejection of one of our bodies’ main components is leaving many children vulnerable to tooth decay, obesity and dehydration.
Water avoidance can start early. The results from one study of the drinking habits of two-to seven-year-olds found that squash was the most frequently-consumed beverage. The authors suggested that by the age of two, many toddlers were already refusing water because they had been conditioned to expect sweet drinks.
With over 13 per cent of children now obese, and 41 per cent of English five-year-olds suffering from tooth decay, many parents are becoming aware that cutting down on sugary foods is not enough. “The only drinks that are healthy for teeth are milk and water,” says Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation. “Water contains natural minerals and can help to wash away any food debris in the mouth. In addition to this, it doesn’t contain sugar.”
Meanwhile soft drinks and even natural fruit juices can play havoc with teeth if consumed regularly. “The acid in these drinks causes the enamel on our teeth to be softened temporarily when we drink them, and some of the mineral content is lost. For this reason you shouldn’t brush for up to an hour after drinking fruit juice or fizzy drinks,” advises Dr Carter. And then, of course, there is the sugar content of fizzy and so-called ‘juice drinks’ that causes tooth decay. “If all children switched to water, then, nationwide, we would see a vast reduction in the levels of the decay they experience,” Dr Carter claims.
According to the British Dietetic Association, children need to consume about six to eight glasses of water a day, and more in hot weather or when exercising. Their bodies have a higher rate of water turnover, and a greater surface area to body mass ratio than adults, so they lose more water through evaporation. This is, of course, not a problem if children drink enough. But unfortunately they often don’t recognise the signals of thirst, or may not want to stop what they’re doing to drink. And if this happens regularly, the thirst mechanism can become desensitised. A further problem is that children may confuse thirst with hunger, and opt for juice, or fizzy drinks (with the obvious damaging
consequences), or milk which can inhibit the appetite and prevent them from eating a balanced diet.
Ensuring that your children drink enough water can help prevent a range of short- and long-term ailments from headaches, bladder, kidney and bowel problems, to cancer. Dehydration can affect concentration and reduce mental performance by 10 per cent. It can also contribute to bed-wetting that can cause problems with self-esteem.
While it is clear that we should be providing our children with access to regular supplies of water, which type we should choose is a bit less obvious. Bottled water has the reputation of being healthier, but for young children at least, it may not actually be the safest option. It is not always sterile and some may have been in the bottle for several years, so it should always be boiled and cooled down before being given to a baby.
Fortunately for us, in the UK we can take safe, drinkable tap water for granted. Each water authority has strict guidelines to adhere to and details of what pours from our taps. Despite the Drinking Water Inspectorate’s insistence that our tap water is safe, however, some of the chemicals found there, including chlorine and aluminium, have been linked to cancer. Using a filter jug can lessen our children’s exposure to these nasties, plus all the pesticides, lead and other organic impurities. Filtered water, like all water, however, must still be boiled and cooled before being used for babies during their first year.
If children are used to drinking squash or juice, converting them to the joys of H2O may take a few days and you might need to get creative. Show them dehydration in action by placing a stalk of fresh celery, with leaves, in an empty cup overnight. It will have drooped by morning, but if they add water to the glass it will stand back up to attention. And, of course, exciting new drinks bottles are usually enough to persuade children that water is cool.
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