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Healthier, Happier, & Hydrated

It can be easy for children to forget to drink when they are busy learning, playing, and moving throughout a busy school day. If a drink isn’t in front of them, they may not notice how thirsty they are until it is too late and they are almost dehydrated - a situation that could have serious consequences for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. A study from 2015 found that more than half of all children and adolescents in the United States are not getting enough hydration with nearly a quarter reporting drinking no plain water at all. Ensuring students are adequately hydrated is an essential objective for every school committed to the well-being, academic success, and lifelong achievement of their students.

Importance of Water in Schools

With 50% of the human body being made up of water, it’s no surprise that adequate intake of water is important for vital physiological processes including circulation, metabolism, temperature regulation, and waste elimination. It’s also a critical component to effective immune system function and has been found to improve memory and attention, reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and help prevent dental cavities when fluoridated. Students who don't drink enough water can suffer from a variety of symptoms, including daytime fatigue, sluggishness, and headaches, ultimately affecting their performance in school. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), kids ages 4-8 years need around 5 cups of hydrating fluids per day while older children need 7-8 cups. These recommended amounts, however, can vary individually and based on physical activity or environmental conditions.

Water Recommendations/Requirements for Schools

Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make plain drinking water (no flavorings, carbonation, etc.) available to students at no cost during lunchtime. Likewise, schools must also provide free drinking water during School Breakfast Program (SBP) meals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health organizations recommend that schools, in addition to other federal requirements, provide free plain water throughout the school day. If other beverages are available or sold during the school day, they should only include plain water, fat-free or low-fat milk, and 100% fruit juice in specified portions.

Strategies to Increase Hydration in Schools

To promote healthy hydration, schools should frequently evaluate current drinking water policies, practices, and conditions.  The CDC offers a comprehensive needs assessment to help schools determine their strengths, areas for improvement, and priorities for action in improving access to and consumption of drinking water. Development, implementation, and ongoing management of a successful water access and student hydration plan require participation from the entire school community. From facilities maintaining the cleanliness and functionality of water fountains and bottle fillers to administration reviewing and revising policies to allow for students to carry and refill water bottles throughout the school day, and school nurses educating students and staff on the enormous benefits of drinking water, establishing healthy hydration habits in students is a thirst well worth quenching.

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