Parents call for greater access to drinking water in primary schools

New research reveals concern over provision of water in schools for children aged 4 – 10 years old

5 May 2013: Over 60% of parents across the UK say their child’s school does not provide water throughout the day, according to new research. Worryingly, 64% of parents say that water is banned from classrooms and 73% say there is no access to water via water fountains. This is despite Department of Education guidelines stating that the Local Authority or governing body must ensure that pupils have easy access at all times to free, fresh drinking water on school premises in primary schools, child drinking

The majority of parents also said that their children are thirsty when they get home from school (69%), and almost half of parents (43%) regularly notice other signs of dehydration in their children, including tiredness and irritability. These are the findings from new research carried out by the Natural Hydration Council (NHC) with Netmums – the UK’s largest parenting site, which included in-depth focus group activity as well as a survey of more than 1,000 parents of children aged 4 – 10 years old across the UK.

Whilst 91% of parents accept chief responsibility for their children’s hydration habits, almost two thirds (63%) didn’t know how much fluid their child should be drinking and a quarter (25%) of them are not giving their children a drink to take to school.

Nutritionist and advisor to the NHC, Dr Emma Derbyshire, said: “It is concerning that so many parents have said they don’t think their children are drinking enough fluid throughout the day and I hope that parents and schools can find a good solution to this problem. It was reassuring to learn that 80% of parents said they would like their children to drink more water, as this is the ideal choice for regular hydration as it contains zero sugar, calories, preservatives or additives.

While the amount of fluid a child needs depends on many factors including age, gender, weather and physical activity levels; guidelines from the Department of Health state that they should aim to drink approximately 6-8 glasses of fluid per day (on top of the water provided by food in their diet). Younger children need relatively smaller drinks (e.g. 150 ml serving) and older children need larger drinks (e.g. 250–300 ml serving)EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA) (2010) Scientific Opinion on Dietary reference values for water. EFSA Journal 8(3):1459. [48 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1459. Available online:

Further academic research of 1,456 children and adults in the UK, published in Nutrition TodayJ.

16 , found that more than half of 4 –18 year olds’ fluid consumption was below the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommendations. Author Joan Gandy, PhD, RD, a dietetic consultant and fellow of the British Dietetic Association (BDA), also said that “water consumption was low for all age groups of children” and on average, children were consuming at least 175 kcal per day from soft drinks.

Siobhan Freegard, Netmums founder, said: “The focus group and quantitative survey activity we conducted with the NHC and our members, was extremely interesting and really highlights some key issues surrounding this important topic for parents, carers and schools nationwide. Between the ages of 4-10 is such a fundamental time in child development and this work really raises the point that schools need to be prioritising healthy hydration and water provision for children during school hours.

Nearly a quarter of parents (22%) said they worry that their child’s performance suffers at school due to dehydration. Studies show that 60 per cent of children arrive at school insufficiently hydrated (Barker et al, 2012) and those arriving with a hydration deficit perform worse in cognitive tasks (Edmonds 2012).

Recent research by Dr Caroline Edmonds, Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology, The University of East London, suggests that children who receive additional water could improve their ability in key classroom activities such as handwriting and copying text, as well as maintain their attention‘Water supplementation improves visual attention and fine motor skills in schoolchildren’, Paula Booth, Bianca Taylor and Caroline Edmonds, published in Education and Health, Vol. 30 No. 3, 2012.

Children were tested after water supplementation of an average 168mlStudy performed with a sample of 15 children, between the ages of 8 and 9 years old, and without water supplementation. The tests included a letter cancellation task, ball catching and a ‘whack a mole’ style game on the Wii console. Children had significantly higher scores in the computer game when supplemented with water, as well as better scores in the letter cancellation task and consuming more than 200ml improved ball catching skills.

Dr Edmonds, said: “Evidence suggests that once children arrive at school, 71 per cent do not drink sufficient water throughout the day to counteract the risk of dehydration or even to maintain the hydration level that they had when they arrived at school. One of the biggest barriers is that it is still not ‘cool’ or fashionable to drink water in school. The other challenge is increasing accessibility to water, which would help increase consumption both in and out of the classroom.”

The research by the NHC also showed that parents considered smoothies as a “healthy” option for their children to drink throughout the day (85%) with almost all saying that fizzy drinks are “unhealthy”(99%). Recent media reports have highlighted that both these drinks contain similar levels of sugar

Dr Emma Derbyshire commented: “Fruit juice should be consumed in moderation and smoothies should really only be drunk once a day. It’s important to note that these drinks are perfectly healthy in moderation, but that water and milk are the best drinks recommended for regular consumption with children this ageThe British Nutrition Foundation advises that children drink plenty of water and have milk regularly.”

Dr Emma Derbyshire has offered some top tips for parents on how to encourage children to drink more water and stay hydrated throughout the day:

1. Children often copy parents’ behaviour and habits, so try to get into the habit of drinking more water in front of your child(ren)
2. Always offer water at mealtimes – apart from anything else it will help those vegetables taste less bitter if children are drinking something plain, rather than sweet
3. Put a bottle of water in lunchboxes to encourage children to drink at lunch time
4. Don’t overlook the need to give your child(ren) a drink at breakfast so they start the day well hydrated. Water is best as it contains zero sugar, calories, preservatives or additives
5. Offer younger children drinks on a regular basis and actively encourage consumption

Notes to Editors

Please see the below table for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommendations for water intake for children under conditions of moderate environmental temperature and moderate physical activity levelsEFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA) (2010) Scientific Opinion on Dietary reference values for water. EFSA Journal 8(3):1459. [48 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1459. Available online:

Note that these values include water from both food and drinks (amounts from drinks only have been estimated).


Sex Age group Amount of fluid from drinks and food (litres/day)* Amount of fluid from drinks only (litres/day)**
Boys and girls 2 to 3 years 1.3 0.9 – 1.0
Boys and girls                         4 to 8 years 1.6 1.1 – 1.3
Girls 9 to 13 years                                 1.9 1.3 – 1.5
Boys 9 to 13 years 2.1 1.5 – 1.7
Female 14-18 years 2.0 1.4 – 1.6
Male 14-18 years 2.5 1.8 – 2.0

Source: EFSA (2010)

Adolescents of 14 years and older are considered as adults with respect to adequate water intake and the adult values apply.

*It is estimated that 70-80% of the recommended amount of fluid comes from drinks and 20-30% from food.
**Estimated amounts of fluid from beverages only.