June 16, 1998
New York Times

Americans may be literally drinking themselves into a state of dehydration, a new survey reports.

While Americans drink an average of eight cups of water and other hydrating beverages each day, they counter the positive effects by drinking five servings of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, which dehydrate the body, according to a survey of the drinking habits of 3,000 people.

The result, said Dr. Barbara Levine, director of the Nutrition Information Center at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, is a dehydrated nation. The problem is that the alcohol and caffeine in these beverages are diuretics, substances that cause a person to urinate more, resulting in a net loss of water.

Americans drink an average of 8 1/2 cups of hydrating beverages, which include milk, juice and caffeine-free carbonated drinks and water - and 4 1/2 cups of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages a day. For water alone, the national average is 4.6 cups a day, the survey reported.

The survey, sponsored by the International Bottled Water Association and the Nutrition Information Center, interviewed 200 adults in each of 15 cities.

Lack of knowledge is not the problem. Most people said they were aware that experts recommend drinking eight glasses of water a day and that some beverages, coffee, were dehydrating.

The reasons for not keeping well hydrated varied from not having enough time to not liking the taste of water.

Not drinking enough water can have costs. People who drank three or fewer glasses a day were more 6 likely to suffer symptoms like grogginess upon waking and dry skin, experts said. And the benefits of adequate hydration are many, including appetite suppression, regular digestion and the prevention of headaches.

Levine said people should drink the equivalent of eight glasses of water a day. If they drink coffee or other dehydrating beverages they should offset the loss by drinking an additional glass of water.

People should not wait until they are thirsty to drink, she said, two cups of fluids.