Over 50 Percent of School-Age Children in the U.S. Are Dehydrated: Why Should We Be Alarmed?

Pascale Lane, MD

Pascale Lane, MD

The fluid in our body is water mixed with minerals and nutrient particles. Balancing the amount of mineral and nutrients to water level ensures that our body works properly. A recent study found that more than half of U.S. children between six and 19 are not drinking enough water. What are the health consequences if children don’t get enough?

First, let’s consider the brain. Water balance is especially critical because the brain sits in a bath of fluid in the skull. Swings in water balance can cause the brain to swell or shrivel; either can be a big problem for its function. Moreover, the pathways that the brain uses to keep from shriveling may impair learning. Many studies have observed cognitive function problems in adults and children when dehydrated and better performance on cognitive tests with water intake.

Urinating regularly also protects from urinary tract infections (UTIs). Only colds cause more illnesses in children than UTIs do. Drinking enough to flush the bladder every few hours can help prevent these disorders.

As a pediatric nephrologist, my bigger concern is kidney stone disease. The prevalence of this disorder has increased in the U.S. in recent years. Kidney stones produce significant pain and suffering, as well as increase the risk of chronic kidney disease. The first line of treatment for any stone-forming disorder is drinking a lot of fluids.

Many school-age children don’t drink water because they don’t have easy access to bathrooms during the school day. Classroom rules limit bathroom use during class to avoid the disruption of students leaving. In large high schools, moving from class to class in the allotted time makes bathroom trips a challenge. Many students also find their school bathrooms unpleasant or even dangerous.

Our stock letter for kidney patients starts with the statement “Hydration is important for health.” We need to push our schools to let students drink water and urinate when necessary. It would improve their health and their scholastic performance.

Pascale Lane, MD, is a pediatric nephrologist and professor at the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center.

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