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An individual’s body mass is composed of 50-60% of water, and it has been shown that only 5-10% of that water is replenished each day (Maughan, 2003). Children are more prone to dehydration due to their surface area to body mass ratio, meaning that their skin absorbs more heat when the ambient temperature is higher than their skin temperature. Because of this, perspiring is essential for children as it prevents a rise in body temperature (Petrie, Stover & Horswill, 2004). When exercise or an activity is performed outside in the heat, water loss is much more substantial than it would be if the activity was done inside, or in a cooler climate. For example, if an individual is running or biking in the heat, they have the potential to lose several litres of sweat in one single day! (Maughan, 2003). It has been proved that even a tiny water deficit has the ability to weaken physical performance, and an even greater deficit can cause weakness, nausea and migraines (Maughan, 2003).
Furthermore, when fluid intake is limited, alertness and concentration begin to decline, along with decision making and reaction time (Gopinathan, Pichan & Sharma, 1988). Most people do not experience a thirst until they have sustained a water deficit of approximately 2% of their body mass. From this, it can be suggested that an individual that is performing an exercise or activity in the heat may not even know that they are dehydrated to the point that their physical performance is already being affected (Maughan, 2003). Additionally, children are not always mindful of their level of thirst, so they need to be encouraged to consume more fluids.
There are plenty of determinants that may alter this behaviour. One of the main determinants is temperature. For example, a child will most likely not sweat as much if they are doing an activity outside on a brisk fall day as opposed to doing that same activity in the middle of the summer in the hot sun. The type of activity or sport can also affect this – playing catch with a baseball is not as intense of an activity as playing soccer. Since the children are mostly just standing in one place during catch, they might not sweat as much as they would when they play soccer, as they are not exerting as much energy from running back and forth on a soccer field.
Another important environmental factor may include the access to safe, clean drinking water. It is extremely difficult for people in developing countries to have constant access to water, so this could greatly affect the child’s fluid consumption. Poverty and food insecurity are also a determinant. If a family is homeless, it is difficult for the parents to provide their children with an adequate amount of water or food. With taking all of this information into account, it would be best to target the parents of elementary aged children. As previously stated, children are not always aware that they are thirsty, or that their body needs water or other fluids. So, by making the parents mindful of the potential risks of insufficient water consumption, they can encourage their children to consume more fluids, not only when performing exercise, but all of the time.
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