This is Part 4 in a multi-week series of blogs focused on the ABCs of Healthy Kids. Learn more at www.snohd.org/healthykids.
Top Three Take-Aways:
- The human body needs water to function, and there are many health benefits to being well hydrated.
- Plain water is best, preferably in a reusable bottle or cup to reduce garbage. Avoid sugary beverages like sodas or sports drinks.
- Drinking water throughout the day is important regardless of outside temperature or level of physical activity.
Why water matters
The human body needs water. It helps our body maintain temperature, digest food, process waste, cushion joints, flush toxins, and protect sensitive tissues. It also helps keep energy levels up and can reduce cravings and overeating – sometimes the urge to munch may be because your body is running lower on liquids than it would like.
Learning to recognize when our body is thirsty and to think of water as our best go-to beverage starts when we are young. Adults model hydration habits and can encourage children to hydrate, too.
The body needs more water when physically active or if the outside temperature is high, but getting plenty of water is important no matter activity level or what the weather is doing.
The amount of water each person needs per day varies based on things like activity level, size, what they eat, how much they sweat, and what medications they are taking. For adults, a general rule of thumb is 8 cups, or 64 ounces, of water each day. For older children and teens, that can be a decent goal, too. For children who are elementary-school age or younger, adjust water intake for their size and age. If your 2-year-old drinks about two cups of water a day, that’s a good amount. Remember that infants should be drinking breast milk or formula, not water.
For children of all ages, the most important thing is to make sure they are drinking whenever they are thirsty, before and after physical activity, and around mealtimes. Our bodies are good at letting us know when we need water, so encourage children to pay attention to what their body is telling them. Make sure they feel confident in speaking up and asking for a drink if they aren’t old enough to get one themselves.
Children who are middle or high school age may also find it helpful to use a water tracking tool. These come in paper form as well as on phones or other devices (we have a paper version available at www.snohd.org/activities). Not sure your teen will actually drink enough water? Remind them that it’s great for energy levels and for their complexion – water helps flush toxins from the skin, and lack of water can cause skin to overcompensate and become oily.
Water: Plain and simple
Plain water often is not the drink of choice for kids or teens. Little ones may prefer fruit juices, and teens may gravitate toward soda, sports drinks or energy drinks.
However, plain water is the best option for health.
Many juices and sports drinks have a lot of sugar, and soda and energy drinks have even more. Avoiding sugary drinks is one of the most straightforward ways to keep children’s eating and drinking habits healthy. Depending on the beverage, one sweet drink can contain almost all of the sugar that a child should consume in a day. While sugary drinks can give a surge of energy, it is not as healthy and consistent as the boost that comes from being well hydrated.
By limiting sugary drinks and encouraging children and teens to go for water, you’re building lifelong habits that can make a big difference in overall health.
There are ways to dress up water so it is more exciting. By adding lemon or lime wedges, or by mixing in slices of other fruits or herbs (blackberry and mint make for a fun combination), you can create healthy flavored water.
Unsweetened tea, sparkling water, or flavored water can also offer healthier alternatives to sugary drinks. Milk and milk alternatives (almond or soy milk, for example) as well as 100% fruit juices can be healthy options in moderation but shouldn’t be a replacement for water.
- Let kids pick out or decorate reusable water bottles. Consider having two per person – one for at home and one for out-and-about. They can personalize and take pride in their bottles, and they’ll always have one handy at home and another for school, sports or clubs, family outings, or other adventures.
- Drink water with meals and snacks. Give a cup of water to everyone when you sit down to eat or when you give a snack to your child. Even if they don’t finish the cup, having a few gulps while they eat helps keep them hydrated and may reduce the likelihood of overeating.
- Check out some tracking tools. Paper versions with markers or stickers can be fun for younger kids, and there are paper versions as well as apps on smartphones or other mobile devices for older kids. Drinking enough water can be a fairly simple goal to meet, which also gives children and teens a sense of satisfaction and victory when they fill up their tracker.
- Always pack water for outings. When you’re on-the-go with children, it can be hard to remember everything. While you’re checking to make sure you have the soccer cleats or the diaper bag or the picnic lunch, make sure you check that you’ve put a few full water bottles in with your supplies, too.
- Make it fun. Start a family competition for who fills their water tracker the most this week. Try out different combinations of fruits and herbs for flavored water to see what the kids like best. Read children’s books about water – there are a variety of illustrated books for early learners about the water cycle, conserving water, and why our bodies need water. Scholastic has a list of books to help teach about water, and you can find children’s books about water at Sno-Isle Libraries or for Everett Public Libraries.
Take some time now to check off the "D" in the ABC's of healthy children. Are your kids getting plenty of water and avoiding sugary drinks?
Water is a powerful tool to help keep kids energized and healthy.