Your kids probably aren’t drinking enough of this

— There’s one simple liquid that has a huge effect on how well your family feels today: water.

More than half of children and teenagers in the United States might not be properly hydrated, according to a nationwide study from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. In fact, 54.5% of the students in the study had urine concentrations that qualified them as below their minimum daily water intake.

“I was surprised that almost one in four kids drank no water during the course of their day,” said lead author Erica Kenney, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard Chan School.

Not all children and adolescents were equally dehydrated, according to the study. Boys surveyed were 76% more likely to be inadequately hydrated than girls, which was a statistically significant finding.

While mild dehydration typically isn’t life threatening, not drinking enough water could result in cognitive impairment, headaches and even nausea in severe cases, according to Dr. Anisha Patel, a pediatrician at the University of California, San Francisco.

For younger children, symptoms include fussiness, infrequent urination, dry mouth and a lack of tears when the child is crying. “Keeping kids hydrated can help them with learning and to perform better in school,” said Patel.

But how much water is enough? For kids and teenagers, daily water requirements vary quite a bit and depend on several factors, including age and activity level.

For total water intake, experts recommend that kids get the majority from drinking water, but also a small amount from food. Kids 1 to 3 years old need roughly four cups of drinking water daily. For kids 4 to 8, five cups is recommended a day. Once kids reach 9, the requirements differ by sex. For boys 9 to 13, eight cups of water is recommended daily, while girls need about seven cups.

“Children don’t have a highly developed thirst mechanism, so they’re especially vulnerable to becoming dehydrated,” said Dianne Ward, a professor of nutrition in the UNC Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the Intervention and Policy Division. “So parents need to remind their children to drink water,” Ward says.

When you think about losing water from the body, urination typically comes to mind. But breathing, sweating and your skin are all other paths that water can take to exit the body. In fact, adults lose nearly 4 cups of water a day through the skin and normal breathing. That’s why it’s important to regularly rehydrate our bodies, which are roughly 60% water by mass depending on age and body composition.

All experts agreed that kids should steer clear of caffeinated and sugary beverages because these drinks contain other ingredients that don’t necessarily provide nutritional benefits. Even worse, beverages with caffeine are mildly diuretic, meaning they cause the body to produce more urine. This means that caffeine could even make dehydration worse.

While 99% of the U.S population has access to clean drinking water, some schools built before the 1980s may have contaminated drinking water because of lead water pipes, according to Patel. For these communities, purified water from outside sources or bottled water are possible alternatives.

The experts we spoke to all had one resounding message: schools need to do a better job of providing kids access to clean drinking water, and not just during lunch time.

Patel’s research has shown that some schools have already taken steps in the right direction by providing water in attractive pitchers, refillable water bottles and easy-to-use fill stations.

At home, parents can start by setting by a good example: drinking primarily plain water to create a “culture of hydration,” said Ward. “Children shouldn’t even have to ask for water,” and younger children in child care should have clean drinking water available to them at all times.

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Farmers markets near you, a USDA tool

— If you’re craving fresh-baked bread, sweet strawberry jam, or the scent of seasonal flowers, you’re in luck. It’s now easier than ever to find your local farmers market, thanks to an online search tool from the USDA.

The searchable farmers market directory — complete with an interactive map — lets users dig up information on local food sources by filtering through more than 8,260 farmers markets by zip code, types of payment accepted, and even the products sold at the market.

But which farmers markets make the cut? The USDA requires that markets have two or more farm vendors selling their goods in the same, consistent location.

By these standards, the USDA reports that the number of farmers markets is on the rise, increasing by 180% from 2006 to 2014. The USDA credits this increase to hundreds of millions dollars in investments in these local food hubs.

And good news for those on government assistance: a growing number of farmers markets are also accepting EBT cards, or food stamps.

“Farmers markets engage people in food so they enjoy what they’re eating more,” said Alice Ammerman, a professor of nutrition in the UNC Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

Interestingly enough, the produce at farmers markets isn’t necessarily healthier than fruits and vegetables found in larger supermarkets, according to Ammerman. The benefits of farmers markets are broader than nutrition. Social engagement with your neighbors as well as with the farmers behind the food. “This is especially true with children, who are more likely to try fresh produce if they actually meet the farmer.”

In fact, living closer to farmers markets is associated with lower child and adolescent obesity rates, according to 2011 analysis of children’s medical records from the Brody School of Medicine. This doesn’t mean that having a farmers market in your neighborhood keeps your family slim, only that the two are statistically related.

A glance at the map of farmers markets across the U.S. reveals where you live is still a big issue for access to the benefits that farmers markets afford. The majority of farmers markets are found in the eastern half of the United States and along the West Coast. Some states have very few farmers markets, such as Utah and Nevada, which each have only 40 markets in the directory. These numbers pale in comparison to New York, the reigning farmers market capital with 661 farmers markets in the state.

Why do some states have so few farmers markets? It all has to do with population density and how urban a state is, according to a USDA representative. New York City, for instance, has a population density of more than 27,000 people per square mile. On the other hand, Phoenix has a population density of approximately 2,900 people per square mile. Fewer people in one place means fewer customers for farmers, and less incentive to set up a farmers market.

If there isn’t a farmers market in your community, fear not. Local foods can still be found in chain grocery stores, restaurants and even schools, depending on where you live.

Ammerman notes that another major barrier to accessing local foods is the limited operational hours of farmers markets. She said the majority of farmers markets are only open one-half day or two half-days per week.

“Just because you can’t feed the whole world with farmers markets doesn’t mean they’re not sustainable or worth pursuing,” Ammerman said. “Farmers markets help to rebuild local systems that create jobs and business opportunities within communities.”

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