Hey Parents: Your Kid Probably Isn’t Drinking Enough Water

Last Update: July 20, 2023

Before he blacked out one day at school, 12-year-old Andy Campbell thought of himself as a pretty healthy kid. But after his parents rushed him to the hospital, doctors delivered some sobering news: his daily soda habit was making him sick.

“I really mean it was the only thing I drank,” The Huffington Post editor wrote in an essay for the website earlier this spring. “For several months of my childhood, I had unlimited access to the neon-green sugar bomb, and I took a swig whenever I was thirsty…I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a drink of water. It had been months.”

Think that’s an extreme, isolated case? It’s not: According to a new study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health, more than half of children and teens aren’t getting enough water a day. In the study, researchers measured urine osmolality—the concentration of your pee—to determine the hydration levels of the 4,000 studied.

“It turns out that I was suffering from extreme dehydration,” Campbell wrote of his soda-induced blackout. “When I got to the hospital, it took three medical personnel to find my veins, because without much water, they were completely collapsed.”

Researchers in the Harvard study found that boys were 76 percent more likely to be dehydrated than girls, and non-Hispanic black people were 34 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white people to be dehydrated.

Even scarier: A quarter of the participants reported drinking no water at all.

The popularity of sodas and energy drinks are partly to blame for this problem. It’s easy for kids to get their hands on these sugar-laden beverages, and they’re generally unaware that the excess sugar and caffeine can be hazardous to their health. The energy drinks are so available that 35 percent of students surveyed in a 2011 study reported drinking at least one energy drink per day.

These energy drinks can have deadly consequences, so it’s vital that these children—and their parents—learn exactly how much water should be consumed each day. Children zero to 12 months should drink approximately 5 ounces per each 2.2 pounds they weigh, according to Robert Kellow, MD. Infants under six months don’t need fluids other than what they take in from formula or breast milk. Children between 1 and 3 should have about 40 ounces per day, while 50 ounces should be the goal for kids ages 3 to 5.

After that, children and teens need amounts of water similar to that of an adult. According to the Healthy Kids website, children from ages 5 to 8 need a liter a day, 9 to 12 year olds need 1.5 liters, and teens ages 13 and over need two liters a day. Part of that fluid intake can be through fruit juices and food—but steer clear of sodas.

Photo credit: Cindee Snider Re via Flickr

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Meagan Morris

Meagan Morris is a freelance health journalist who loves Pilates and deadlifts more than her bodyweight... but not at the same time.

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