Drinking more water is a key to reducing overweight and obesity in kids, a new study finds; plus, experts share how to convince them to do it
Take a sip of this.
A new study from the University of Illinois finds that, if we could encourage kids to drink more water with their school lunches, we could prevent more than 500,000 kids in the United States from becoming overweight or obese. Already, nearly one in five US kids are overweight, and another one in five on top of that are obese.
“When water dispensers were placed in school cafeterias,” in 1,200 elementary and middle schools in New York City between 2009 and 2013, “students’ consumption of water at lunchtime tripled and was associated with small but significant declines in their risks of being overweight one year later,” a summary of the study revealed.
One big reason: When water is readily available, kids are less likely to turn to sugary drinks — which contribute to weight gain — to quench their thirst., says Jill Turley, national nutrition advisor for the nonprofit Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Drinking water with meals also helps you feel full faster, which can mean you eat less, research shows. And, Turley adds, “when we’re not dehydrated, we tend to have more energy. Energy often leads to motivation, and motivation leads to exercise.”
What’s more, by boosting kids’ water consumption throughout the day, we could reduce the medical costs and indirect societal costs such as productivity loss and increased sick leave from work associated with these problems by more than $13 billion.
The $13 billion savings figure in the new report stems from a cost-benefit analysis conducted by University of Illinois professor Ruopeng An, who found that rolling out a program similar to the one in New York City to all public and private schools nationwide would cost little, but save a ton. Indeed, the cost would only be about $18 per student from kindergarten through 12th grade, while the average savings added up to $174 per student across each child’s lifetime.
What’s more, An’s research also found that overweight can lead to additional annual medical costs of $350 per person — a number which shoots up to $1,500 per person if the individual is obese, the professor of public health policy told Moneyish.
This isn’t the first time researchers have drawn a link between obesity and inadequate hydration. In 2016, researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a study in which they found that, “People who are obese and have a higher body mass index (BMI) are more likely to be inadequately hydrated…”
Moneyish asked experts for how parents and teachers can encourage kids to make drinking water more fun. Here are a few tips:
Offer kids fewer sugary drinks: It sounds simple but, by making sugary beverages less accessible to kids, whether at school or at home, they’ll be more prone to reaching for water instead, said registered dietitian Keri Glassman. Plus, as you consume less sugar in your diet, you end up wanting it less — by doing this, “you can reframe your taste for just wanting water versus a sweet beverage… It’s a habit,” she added.
Make water accessible: Kids need to be able to access water easily, which could be as simple as having a cooler or mini fridge stocked with bottles in a place low to the ground, so young kids can easily reach it, Turley said.
Host a challenge: Turley also says that challenges can encourage kids to drink more water. For instance, teachers can collect water bottles at the end of the month, and if the class has surpassed a certain number, they can win a field trip or a similar prize. You can do this at home too, by collecting your family’s empty bottles and incentivizing your kids with a special day out, a trip to the movies, or some other reward they’ll enjoy.
Design fun water bottles: “Get a cool water bottle for your kids that they can bring to school, and fill it up before they go,” Glassman said. “Fill it up to do their after-school activities or their homework,” too, Glassman suggested. Turley encouraged kids to draw on their water bottles to customize them.
Enhance the taste: While it won’t entirely replicate the flavorful allure of fruit juice, tossing in a few berries, a slice of an orange, or cubes of pineapple or watermelon can liven up your H20, both Glassman and Turley agreed.
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