Arthur C Clarke once observed how inappropriate it is to call this planet Earth when clearly it is ocean. Perhaps that's why we take it for granted, for when it comes to water, one of the problems we face is the ubiquity of it all.
We're surrounded by it, we're composed of it, the food we eat is largely made of it, yet we fail to acknowledge just how vital it is to our lives and to our health.
We know this because between 50-70% of the UK population is moderately dehydrated at any one time. Surprising, isn't it? And just a 2% drop in adequate hydration will cause a 20% reduction in mental and cognitive performance. That's an important fact for employers to consider, but even more significant is the role water plays in our general well-being and its help in preventing serious illnesses.
It's vital that we understand the role of hydration in our future well-being because sickness absence, according to the recent Dame Carol Black review, costs the UK economy more than £100bn a year.
Our industry body, the British Water Cooler Association, has been delivering water through coolers to the UK's working population for more than 20 years. The industry body represents mains-fed and bottle-fed cooler companies. So, uniquely, our industry sits outside the politics of the mains vs bottled water debate and can look beyond the bias of competing industries.
From where we sit, we're able to see just how damaging it is to have people driven by a combination of misinformation and political agenda, while watching the well-being of our nation suffer. While some choose to deploy negative campaigns aimed at stopping people buying water, we've been busy understanding what happens to our brains when subjected to moderate dehydration. While the 'small pack' bottled water industry has been under attack, we've been researching the correlation between dehydration and cancer. While others choose to attack bottled water on environmental grounds, we've continued to challenge our own environmental credentials.
The net effect of these negative approaches to water has seen a media frenzy of misleading stories highlighting the environmental impact of one source of water, or the health risks of another – including the dangers of drinking too much water. This condition is called hyponatremia – it killed three people in 2006, while pigeon lung disease killed seven.
Meanwhile, illness that could be prevented by adequate hydration costs many thousands of lives and our economy billions of pounds.
Consider the facts
- According to the World Health Organisation, 1.6 million children (under five) die from dehydration associated with diarrhoeal diseases worldwide each year.
- 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma, which is about one in five households. An estimated 75% of hospital admissions for asthma are avoidable, and up to 90% of the 1,400 deaths per year from asthma are preventable.
- One in three of us will be struck by cancer and one in four of us will die from it. Cancer Research UK estimates that half of all cancers could be prevented by changes in lifestyle. Only about 5-10% of cancers can be accounted for by inherited causes/faulty genes. Major contributing factors to reducing risk of colorectal cancer include eating more healthily, exercising more and drinking water.
- 16,000 people died from colorectal cancers in the UK in 2006 – that’s about two every hour. A range of studies detail the protective effect of drinking more water, from 45% to as high as 90%.
- Kidney stones are quite common in the UK. They will affect around three in 20 men and one in 20 women at some point. According to recent research, between 25-30% more people in the US may suffer from kidney stones through increased dehydration if temperatures increase as predicted due to global warming. The same effects may happen elsewhere, too.
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more common in women than in men. About 50% of women will need treatment for at least one UTI during their lifetime. Preventive factors for UTIs include drinking more water.
We know that it makes sense to encourage future generations to drink more water in all its forms. We must coordinate a movement that teaches our next generation of children to drink water as a life skill.
We can change the face of preventive screening by actively seeking to understand hydration alongside other measures of well-being, such as blood pressure and Body Mass Index (BMI). When we talk about prevention vs cure, we hold the key to the next 60 years of the NHS.
Where there's an adequate mains supply, we can provide filtered, chilled water. Where there's a need (due to a lack of convenient mains supply) or indeed a desire for bottled water, we can ensure that there's a plentiful supply on tap, delivered in recyclable, returnable bottles that have a life cycle of some 50 trips.
We hold the key to future well-being in our hands. It's up to us to take responsibility for our own health, and there's a lot we can do for ourselves with the right information and by adopting the right habits. It will be good for us, good for our economy and it doesn't have to cost the Earth. Or should I say, ocean.
Ben McGannan is MD of Water for Work and Home. The company supplies more than 10,000 offices and homes every day with drinking water from a range of coolers and dispensers.
This article was first published
in Cooler Innovation.