Suffering from headaches? Drink more water.
Feeling tired? Drink more water.
Fighting the flu? Drink more water.
Trying to lose weight? Drink more water.
As pediatricians, we advise our patients to “drink more water” all the time – a recommendation that sounds so simple, yet is so often under-recognized. More than half of the children in the U.S. do not drink enough water and one-fourth do not drink any water on a daily basis.
The human body is 60 percent water, and hydration is important for nearly every system in the body, from blood circulation and nourishment to temperature regulation and waste removal. It’s no wonder that dehydration, even at mild levels, is associated with a host of symptoms that may have significant impacts on physical and mental health. So, while we don’t usually think of water as medicine, we would argue that water is as good as any drug on the market.
With regards to the type of water, we prefer that all our patients, even newborn babies in their formula, drink water from the tap. For one reason, tap water is free. Each person who switches from bottled to tap water, if they drink the recommended four 16-ounce bottles each day, would save about $720 each year. Instead of spending a premium on something that is already available from faucets and fountains in most homes, schools and parks, parents can invest that money elsewhere – perhaps in our children’s college fund.
Another reason to drink from the tap is the environment. Bottled-water production requires 2,000 times more energy than tap water production. Most plastic bottles end up in landfills and oceans, where they may take 500 years to break down while gradually leaching harmful toxins into the surrounding water and soil. Many families have already chosen to go green by using reusable grocery bags or buying locally sourced foods, and switching to tap water can be another easy way to help out the environment.
The final – and perhaps most important – reason to drink tap over bottled water is safety. After what happened with the lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, we understand why parents are skeptical about the municipal water system. However, tap water in the U.S. is actually tightly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, undergoing a series of disinfection and filtration steps to ensure that the amount of impurities does not exceed a legal “maximum contaminant level” by the time it reaches us.
Bottled water, on the other hand, undergoes less testing and may therefore be less safe. Although it is true that tap water in some parts of the country is contaminated, this is rare. The Flint water crisis in 2016 was an exception; this was an unfortunate and inexcusable event caused by the government’s negligence and improper treatment of the drinking water after the city’s water source was changed.
Given the media coverage and endless advertisements for different types of water, we realize that this can be a confusing and controversial topic. So, we’ve tried to sum up water and health in three simple rules: Drink more water. Mostly tap. Sometimes filtered.
Drink more water. As a rule of thumb, children should drink a number of 8-ounce cups equivalent to their age each day, with approximately eight cups per day for children 8 years old and up. Adults should drink at least eight cups of water per day. Everyone should use reusable stainless steel or bisphenol A-free plastic bottles to protect the environment.
Mostly tap. Tap water remains the most cost-effective, convenient and eco-friendly way to stay hydrated. It also has the added benefit of containing fluoride to prevent tooth decay. While tap water may contain trace amounts of impurities, in our opinion, these amounts are too little to cause worry. For families who are concerned about tap water safety, testing kits and water quality reports are publicly available to provide information about their municipal water supply.
Sometimes filtered. If certain chemicals, such as lead, are found to be above the “maximum contaminant level” in a family’s water supply, they should use a water filter. Because fluoride is such a small molecule, it does not get removed by most common household water filters. The “taste” of tap water may also be enhanced by filters because the level chloride is reduced.
Drs. Alvin and Kimberly Chan are husband-and-wife pediatricians based in L.A. Both are competitive runners who fuel all their runs with the city’s tap water.