7 November 2012: Research from a new study suggest that having a drink of water may improve children’s visual attention and fine motor skills‘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.
The 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.
Children were tested after water supplementation of an average 168mlStudy performed with a sample of 15 children, 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: “Although there are extensive studies of the effect of dehydration in adults, there is still much research to be done with children. This paper helps address the gap in the literature by showing the effects of water supplementation in schoolchildren 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.
“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. Further studies are now taking place, looking at the effect of diet on children’s hydration status and task performanceKaushik, A., Mullee, M.A., Bryant, T.N., & Hill, C.M. (2007). A study of the association between children’s access to drinking water in primary schools and their fluid intake: can water be ‘cool’ in school? Child: Care, Health & Development, 33(4), 409-415. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2214.2006.00721.x”.
Dr Edmonds’ research reinforces the importance of water being made available in the classroom so that children have regular and easy access to it. She states that “providing easy access to drinking water may be a simple method of maintaining performance in the classroom”.
Previous research has raised concerns that children are not adequately hydrated at school. 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 short-term memory (Fadda, 2012 published in Appetite, 59, 730-737).
Kinvara Carey, General Manager of the Natural Hydration Council, comments: “Our adult brains are made up of 73 per cent water, so poor hydration can adversely affect how our brain’s function. In addition, Children regulate their temperatures differently to adults and have a larger surface-to-weight ratio than adults so are less tolerant to fluid losses. It’s important to make sure children are well hydrated before they leave for school and have easy access to water. Putting a bottle of water in lunchboxes is a good idea, as it has no sugar or calories, and will help children keep hydrated throughout the day.”
In general, children are at greater risk of dehydration than adults due to their higher surface to body weight ratio and smaller reserves of body fluids. Importantly, whilst adults often have easy access to a supply of water, children tend to rely on their guardians and teachers to provide drinks and often don’t pay attention to the early stages of thirst. According to guidelines, children should aim to drink about 6-8 glasses of fluid per day (on top of the water provided by food in the diet). Younger children need relatively small servings (e.g. 150ml per drink) and older children need larger servings (e.g. 250–300ml per drink).
Did you know?
1. Studies have shown that children arriving at school with a hydration deficit perform worse in short-term memory than better hydrated children (Fadda et al 2012, published in Appetite, 59, 730-737)
2. 60 per cent of children arrive at school insufficiently hydrated (Barker et al, 2012)
3. The European Food Safety Authority recommends that the total water requirements of boys (age 9-13) is 2,100mL per day and girls is 1,900mL per day, from food and drink
4. Current Education Regulations require only that schools have to provide a supply of drinking water on school premises, without specifying where and how often children should have access
5. In the course of a school day, between 30 per cent to 60 per cent of time is spent using fine motor skills on activities such as handwriting (McHale and Cermak, 1992)
The Natural Hydration Council’s top tips for school hydration
1. Children should aim to have 6-8 glasses of fluid per day which should preferably be water for hydration purpose. Low fat milk or fruit/vegetable juices can contribute to meeting the daily water needs. [‘Hydration for Children’ fact sheet].
2. Put a bottle of water in lunchboxes as this is the fluid that the BNF advises drinking ‘plenty of’.
3. Children should be encouraged to sip fluids at regular intervals throughout the day i.e. a lot of children drink fluids at the end of the day when signs of dehydration have already started to set in.