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It seems like a simple response to a basic bodily function: You get thirsty, you drink something. But most American kids are apparently ignoring the signals. The first national study of its kind suggests that more than half of all American children and adolescents are not drinking enough water to prevent dehydration. And about a quarter of those surveyed reported they never drink water at all.

Researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined survey data from 2009 to 2012 involving 4,000 youth between the ages of 6 and 19 who took part in the annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They measured urine concentration to determine levels of hydration and concluded that those who were dehydrated probably weren’t drinking enough water. The study was published in the June 11, 2015 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

“Even though for most of these kids this is not an immediate, dramatic health threat, this is an issue that could really be reducing quality of life and well-being for many, many children and youth,” lead study author Erica Kenney, a postdoctoral research fellow, said in a statement released by the university.

Chronic dehydration can affect various physical and cognitive functions, including metabolism, circulation, temperature regulation, and gastrointestinal issues. Thankfully, the solution is a simple one, said the study’s senior author, Steven Gortmaker, professor of health sociology at the Chan School. “If we can focus on helping children drink more water — a low-cost, no-calorie beverage — we can improve their hydration status, which may allow many children to feel better throughout the day and do better in school.”

For more on the benefits of adequate hydration, see “All About Hydration.”

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