Ages & Stages 6-10: Why Kids Need Water

At first glance, water doesn’t seem to contribute much to your child’s overall health. After all, water has no vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein or carbohydrates. Still, water can be vital to your child’s well-being, especially when the mercury rises. Read about how to tap into water’s many underrated health benefits and what you can do to help your child stay well-hydrated this summer — and beyond.

Water Is a Super ‘Nutrient’
Water might not have nutrients per se. Still, it’s an important player in keeping your child healthy. Among its many duties, “water aids digestion, helps prevent constipation, normalizes blood pressure and helps stabilize heart beat,” says Joel Steinberg, M.D., professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center of Dallas. Water also carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, cushions joints, protects organs and tissues, helps regulate body temperature and maintains electrolyte (sodium) balance.

For optimal health, kids generally need about a liter of water for every 1,000 calories they consume. But don’t worry about doing the math. With the exception of infants and older kids who get so busy playing that they forget to drink (more on those later), “let your child’s thirst drive be your guide,” says Steinberg. In other words, make plenty of water available and let your kids drink as much as they want. A benchmark that kids are drinking enough: “They’re urinating every couple of hours,” says Michael Farrell, M.D., chief of staff at Children’s Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati.

Water Reduces the Risk of Heat-related Conditions
Because water helps control the body’s temperature, “it’s the first line of defense against heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke,” says Andy Spooner, M.D., director of General Pediatrics at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis. “Both of these illnesses are the result of dehydration.” Although a child can become dehydrated any time of year, it’s more likely to happen in the hot summer months because they lose more water through the skin as perspiration.

Heat exhaustion results when the body loses too much water (10 to 15 percent of body weight) through sweat within several hours. Fortunately, in school-age and younger kids, heat exhaustion is rare. (High school athletes practicing in heat of the day are more likely targets.) “But it can happen with children who play outside and forget to drink because they get caught up in what they’re doing,” says Spooner. Signs of heat exhaustion include fatigue, anxiety and drenching sweats.

To guard against dehydration and heat exhaustion, make sure your kids have easy access to water so they can drink at will. Bring bottles of water with you when you’re traveling and when you’re at the beach, the park and at summer festivals. Encourage water breaks if you sense your child is distracted and has forgotten about drinking, especially if he’s physically active. In fact, “30 to 40 minutes before children play sports, have them drink a cup to a cup and a half of water,” advises Steinberg. Then make sure they drink another cup to a cup and a half every half hour during the activity.

Steinberg advises against routinely giving kids sports drinks like Gatorade, which contain salt and sugar. “Kids don’t lose a lot of salt in their sweat. Water is all they need,” he says.
With heatstroke, a potentially fatal condition, body temperature rises to dangerously high levels because the body gets so hot it can’t cool itself. Although dehydration contributes to heatstroke, “it’s mainly related to a hot environment,” says Steinberg. “We see heatstroke in Texas in kids who’ve carelessly been left in cars with the windows rolled up on a hot day.

The ambient temperature of the car can get up to 140° F and toddlers and small children can die in as little as an hour.” (Heatstroke is an emergency. Call 911 if you think your child might be suffering from it.) To prevent heatstroke, it goes without saying: Never leave your kids alone in the car.

Sandra Gordon is a journalist and author whose most recent book is “Consumer Reports Best Baby Products, 1007.”

The Best Water Bottle
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about BPA, a chemical used to make polycarbonate water bottles clear and rigid, which may leach into whatever liquid your child’s water bottle contains. The health concerns about BPA relate to its ability to mimic the hormone estrogen. During such “endocrine disruption,” chemicals can interfere with or mimic the action of hormones in ways that upset normal development. Hundreds of studies published over the past decade suggest a connection between exposure to BPA at levels typical in the U.S. and increased rates of breast and prostate cancer, reproductive abnormalities, and — for infants exposed in the womb — problems later on such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obesity and diabetes.

If you’re concerned about BPA, look for BPA-free plastic reusable water bottles and sippy cups, such as polyethylene, an opaque, less shiny plastic that doesn’t leach BPA. It’s sometimes marked with recycling code 1 and/or the abbreviation PET on the bottle. Other plastics not made with BPA are high density polyethylene (recycling code 2, HDPE) and polypropylene (recycling code 5, PP).