Hydration for children is a very important issue to discuss. Small children have more body fat than adults. They are also less heat tolerant and more likely to be dehydrated, especially in physical and hot climates. It is crucial that children are motivated to drink water frequently because children don’t remember getting drink alone.
Our healthy hydration guide for children aged 5-11 years is available to download by clicking on the image below. For information on Healthy hydration guide for adults and teenagers click here.
Daily Hydration need for children
The amount of fluid a child needs can depend on many factors including the age, sex, environment and the amount of physical activity they perform, although they will usually seek and consume about 6-8 glasses of fluids everyday (in addition and water supplied by food). Young children need smaller beverages (e.g. serving 120–150 ml) and older children need bigger beverages (e.g. serving 250–300 ml). It is focused on the EFSA’s guidelines on the amount of fluid children of various ages required. Assuming 70-80% of fluid in the diet comes from drinks (20-30% from food) the EFSA recommendations from drinks only are equivalent to 1.1-1.3 litres per day for 4-8 year olds, 1.3-1.5 litres per day for 9-13 year old girls and 1.5-1.7 litres per day 9-13 year old boys.
What are the best drinks for children?
Water and milk are the best drinks for children as they do not contain free sugars. Free sugars contribute to calorie intakes higher consumption of sugary drinks has been associated with weight gain in children. Some drinks like milk and fruit juice provide vitamins and minerals. In the case of fruit juice this also contains free sugars and so it shouldn’t be consumed in large amounts – see below for further details.
Drinking sugary drinks too often can also lead to tooth decay, especially if consumed frequently between meals or if teeth are not brushed regularly with fluoride toothpaste.
Some drinks are acidic (e.g. fruit juice, squash and some carbonated drinks) and this may cause dental erosion (damage to tooth enamel) if they are drunk often. Some drinks such as tea, coffee and some soft drinks may also contain caffeine which is a mild stimulant. Children, especially younger children, should generally have less caffeine than adults due to their smaller size. Caffeine may affect children’s sleep if consumed close to bed time. More information about drinks like tea and coffee is shown below.
Water – a good choice throughout the day because it hydrates without providing extra calories or risking harm to teeth
Milk is a useful source of nutrients, especially protein, B vitamins, iodine and calcium. Most children should drink reduced-fat milks. Unsweetened, calcium fortified dairy alternatives can also be included. Milky drinks containing added sugars such as milkshakes, hot chocolate and malted drinks should only be drunk occasionally.
Fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies provide some vitamins and minerals.. However, they also contain free sugars and can be acidic so it’s recommended to limit them to a combined total of one small glass (150ml) a day and to keep them to mealtimes. 150ml counts as a maximum of 1 portion of 5 A DAY. They can be diluted with water to reduce acidity and sugars content.
Sugar-free drinks hydrate without adding extra sugars but it’s a good idea for most drinks to be milk or water to avoid getting an increased taste for sweet drinks. Fizzy drinks can contain acids that can erode the outer surface of the tooth. Be aware that some of these drinks contain caffeine.
Tea and coffee.
Caffeine is naturally present in tea and coffee. Small amounts are harmless but high intakes should be avoided, especially for young children. It’s best for children to drink decaffeinated tea and coffee with reduced fat milks and no added sugar.
Sugary drinks are best avoided as they provide sugars and few nutrients. Fizzy drinks can contain acids that can erode the outer surface of the tooth. Be aware that some of these drinks contain caffeine.
Sports and energy drinks can be high in sugars and energy drinks may contain high levels of caffeine or other stimulants. These drinks are not suitable for young children.
Practical tips to keep children hydrated
- Ensure children have a drink before school i.e. with breakfast, and during breaks/playtime.
- Parents, teachers and guardians should offer drinks regularly, especially in hot weather.
- Remember that many foods have a high water content and can also contribute to fluid intake. i.e. fruit, vegetables, soup, yogurt.
- Always pack a water bottle in a school bag or lunchbox for children heading off to school/outings/other activities.