Nutrition Articles

Help Your Kids Beat the Summer Heat

Prevent Dehydration and Heat Illness

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It’s "summertime, and the livin' is easy." But for kids, life during summer can be downright sweltering. Many activities—ball games, tennis clinics, band camp, and football training—take place during this hot season, and everyone is at risk for dehydration and heat illness when exposed to sun, high temperatures, and humidity.

However, children are at a greater risk because a child’s body surface makes up a much greater proportion of his overall weight compared to an adult. So before you send your youngster out to play, follow these tips and guidelines.

Know the Signs of Dehydration
The first signs of dehydration include thirst, dry lips and tongue, fatigue, lack of energy, and feeling overheated. The problem is that if kids wait to drink until they "feel" thirsty, dehydration has already started. The thirst mechanism does not kick-in until a child has already lost about 2% of her body weight through sweat.

If left untreated, dehydration can become worse and bring on heat exhaustion (dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, weakness, and muscle pain), which can lead to life threatening heat stroke (nausea, body temperature of 104 degrees or higher, vomiting, seizures, disorientation, lack of sweating, shortness of breath, unconsciousness, coma, and death). 

Treatment
Getting your child out of the sun and to a cool place is the first line of defense if heat exhaustion occurs. Your child should take off excess clothing and bulky equipment, and drink plenty of chilled water. Apply cool, wet towels to the skin or have your child sit in a cool shower.

*Heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

Prevention is the Key!
The good thing is that heat illnesses aren’t inevitable. A little prevention goes a long way:
  • Get Acclimated The first line of defense against dehydration in children is slowly getting them acclimated to the summer heat and humidity. Spending time outdoors, playing in the heat, riding bikes, running, jogging, playing ball, and doing yard work will build up their bodies to handle the heat. Allow for regular breaks and encourage them to drink plenty of fluids.
  • Drink Make sure your child drinks plenty of cool, plain water or sports drinks to stay completely hydrated. Regular breaks to drink fluids should be scheduled, even if your child is not thirsty. Regular fruit juice and soft drinks do NOT re-hydrate the body because they don't contain the right amounts of sugar and electrolytes.
  • What About Sports Drinks? Sports drinks can be used to keep your child hydrated. In fact, children will often drink more because of the taste. However NOT ALL SPORTS DRINKS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Do not be fooled by fancy packaging and wording. Check the label and select a sports drink that meets these guidelines for active children:
    • Eight ounces of a sports drink should contain at least 100 milligrams of sodium and at least 28 milligrams of potassium. It should also be non-carbonated.
How hot is too hot? 
A growing number of athletic programs are developing guidelines to determine when it is too hot to practice. In fact, many are restricting outdoor practice based on the heat index and temperature. Click here for the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s (NATA) guide for parents and coaches.

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Member Comments

  • I don't understand really why you would want to add sports drinks as most of us grew up with just tap water. I think that's better than Gatorade.
  • Very nicely written, thank you.

    I would add something: many drinks that aren't just water will actively dehydrate you. The article warns about drinking carbonated beverages and plain juices. Many drinks, such as apple juice and most sodas, are diuretic. Drinking a Coke or a carton of apple juice may actually dehydrate you as your kidneys allow more water into the urine.

    For the adults, beer and other alcoholic beverages do the same thing, only worse. To metabolize the alcohol, the body must use water - a lot of it.

    The article correctly points out the value of checking the electrolyte balance of sports drinks. It's certainly better to drink something rather than nothing, but there is no drink that fights dehydration quite like water. So have whatever you want, and have some water with it.
  • I found this article very interesting and helpful. Our son has been complaining of not feeling well everytime he eats, he claims he is drinking water, but I'm thinking not enough. Thank you!

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

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