Schoolchildren could be going for 18 hours without a drink

Experts urge parents and teachers to become more aware of children’s hydration needs

Children could be going for as long as 18 hours without anything to drink on schooldays . That’s according to a survey of 2,000 parents with primary school children conducted by the Natural Hydration Council (NHC)From dinner time (6pm) previous night until lunchtime (midday) next day.

Over two thirds of parents (67.05%) said their children are not allowed to leave the classroom to get a drink during lessons and less than 50% of children use water fountains during the day. One in five parents (25.95%) said this is because the water fountains are “dirty or broken”, whilst 21% said they are “too far away” for children to use.

With over a quarter of parents (27.15%) revealing that their child does not have a drink at breakfast, this means children could go as long as 18 hours from the previous evening before they get an opportunity for a drink at lunchtime. Even then, less than a quarter of parents (23.3%) reported giving their children water to take with them to school and less than 40% of parents said schools provide water on the tables at lunchtime.

Researcher in Human Nutrition at Manchester Metropolitan University and advisor to the NHC, Dr Emma Derbyshire, said: “It is certainly concerning that some children may be going for up to 18 hours without a drink. Children are at a greater risk of dehydration than adults as they have higher water requirements in relation to their body weight. In addition, children don’t always recognise the early stages of thirst, which can make them particularly vulnerable to becoming dehydrated, especially during times that can drive up their body fluid losses, for example, in the school playground, or during warm weather. We should try to encourage children to drink water from a young age as it is one of the healthiest ways to hydrate, as it contains zero sugar, calories, preservatives or additives.”

Parents also put water fountains at the top of the list of school facilities they would like to see improved above sports facilities, libraries and classrooms.

In July, Government published the School Food Plan which sets out the actions needed to improve school food.  Myles Bremner, the Director of the School Food Plan said: ‘The availability and promotion of water as the drink of choice in schools is something we want all head teachers to ensure happens in their schools.  Our Headteacher checklist in the School Food Plan is designed to help schools create a great school food culture.  And that must include making sure our children are well hydrated’.

Almost half (48.20%) of parents questioned in the survey said they did not know that water could help boost their child’s concentration. However, research by Dr Caroline Edmonds, Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology, The University of East London, suggests children who drink additional water could improve their performance in key classroom activities such as handwriting and copying text, as well as maintaining their attentionWater 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.

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 barriers is that it is still not ‘cool’ or fashionable to drink water in school. Another challenge is increasing accessibility to water, which would help increase consumption both in and out of the classroom.”

The NHC’s research also revealed school toilets are a barrier to hydration, with more than 90% of children not using water fountains located in the toilets to access drinking water, and almost a quarter (23.20%) avoiding using school toilets altogether. 12% of children have even stopped drinking any fluids to keep away from loos and 15% of parents said their child has wet themselves because they didn’t want to use school toilets.

The NHC has created a NEW ‘Hydration for Children’ fact sheet, full of expert tips, guidelines and handy ways to keep children hydrated. Author 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 should aim to hydrate healthily with plain, natural drinks that are unsweetened and free from additives.

2. Children should be encouraged to drink fluids in the morning with breakfast, and at regular intervals during the day.

3. Research suggests that adequately hydrated children may perform better in school.

4. Children should aim to have 6-8 drinks per day which should ideally be water, milk or fruit/ vegetable juicesCornwell TB & McAlister AR (2013) Contingent choice. Exploring the relationship between sweetened beverages and vegetable consumption. Appetite 62, 203-8.

5. Repeated tastings of water may help children to develop a taste for water.

6. Giving children water at mealtimes may help children to eat vegetables, as it can help to dilute their strong (and sometimes bitter) taste.

7. Children taking part in sports or exposed to warm weather need to replenish the lost fluids by drinking more water

8. Parents and other care givers can play a key role in helping to ensure that children are provided with drinks on a regular basis and by actively encouraging their consumption

Hydration for Children fact sheet


Notes to Editors
Additional research reported  has shown that head teachers across the UK believe that only 7% of children’s lunchboxes contain waterPreviously unreleased information from a survey of 326 teachers across the UK (May 2011). This is despite recent government efforts to revolutionise children’s lunches after finding only just 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards of school dinners
Department of Education guidelines state 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 These new findings back previous research from the NHC and Netmums, which showed 64% of parents believed their children were also banned from drinking water in the classroomSurvey of more than 1,000 parents of children aged 4 – 10 years old across the UK carried out by the Natural Hydration Council (NHC) with Netmums – the UK’s largest parenting site  (March 2013).
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        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.