Black and Hispanic adults in the US have higher rates of dehydration than whites due to a lack of access to safe, clean tap water, researchers say.
Public health professors have been scrambling to identify other communities at risk of chemical poisoning since the lead-infected-water crisis in Flint, Michigan, in 2014.
Scores of studies have highlighted spots all over the country where drinking water may be infected with chemicals.
But now, a new study by Harvard warns that it is likely the vast majority of these regions have more black and Hispanic residents than white.
Their conclusion is based on a chilling statistic from federal health records: almost half of all ethnic minorities suffer from mild dehydration, while rates are low among Caucasians.
A new Harvard study reveals 42 percent of Hispanic US citizens and 44 people of black US citizens are dehydrated. The news comes on the heels of the Flint water crisis, which saw thousands poisoned by lead-infected water. Pictured: a family at a defunct fountain in Flint
Since getting enough water is important for health, policy action is needed to ensure equitable access to healthy beverages including tap water, the study team writes in the American Journal of Public Health.
‘Hydration is essential for maintaining proper physiological functioning,’ said lead author Carolyn Brooks, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
‘Mild levels of inadequate hydration, such as when a person begins to feel thirsty, can impair daily functioning and well-being with symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, reduced cognitive functioning, poorer physical performance, and headaches.’
In 2015, her co-authors on the current study published results documenting inadequate hydration among kids in the US and found some striking disparities.
‘These findings drove us to want to explore whether a similar pattern would emerge in the U.S. adult population.’
The ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and other research showing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic differences in tap water intake also prompted the study team to investigate the idea that these might play a role in hydration and dehydration patterns, Brooks added.
The researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected during 2009 to 2010 and 2011 to 2012 for adults aged 20 to 74 years.
They focused on measurements of urine concentrations to determine hydration levels, and also took into account age, gender, race, ethnicity, income levels and overall dietary intakes.
Drinks were categorized as either plain water, including tap water, sugar-sweetened beverages, milk, 100 percent juice, diet beverages, tea, coffee or alcoholic beverages.
On average, the study team found, non-Hispanic white adults drank about 3.5 servings of tap water every day while non-Hispanic black adults drank about 2 servings per day and Hispanic adults drank about 2.3 servings.
Blacks and Hispanics were 44 percent and 42 percent, respectively, more likely to be inadequately hydrated compared to their white counterparts.
People with lower incomes were also more likely to be inadequately hydrated compared to higher income individuals.
‘We found that nearly a third (29.5 percent) of US adults are not adequately hydrated at a given time and that this was not equal by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.’
It’s important to distinguish that our team looked at ‘inadequate hydration,’ not extreme dehydration which is associated with more serious health problems that can require immediate attention, she noted.
Non-Hispanic black and Hispanic adults drank more bottled water but fewer diet drinks and plain coffee or tea when compared to non-Hispanic whites.
‘We found that differences in tap water intake did partially explain the racial/ethnic disparities in hydration status. And differences in consumption of other beverages further explained some of the racial/ethnic and income disparities,’ Brooks said.
Though many beverages and moisture from food can improve hydration status, they do not all have the same health and financial benefits as safe tap water, Brooks said.
‘Tap water is generally low cost and calorie free – unlike purchasing sugar-sweetened beverages, which pose additional economic burdens and have other health risks given their well-documented relationship to obesity and diabetes.’
More research is needed, she added. ‘While our study suggests a link between racial/ethnic disparities in drinking tap water and disparities in hydration status, we can’t say for sure that differences in safe tap water access are really driving this.’
Encouraging people to drink more tap water may seem simple enough, Brooks said, but in many communities of color, there are both real and perceived concerns regarding the safety of water.
‘Therefore, it is important that we not only focus on initiatives that promote healthy and affordable beverages, but also work to assess and improve drinking water infrastructure in areas with poor access, and improve perceptions of tap water where appropriate,’ she said.
TIMELINE OF FLINT’S CONTAMINATED WATER SUPPLY
Authorities in the financially struggling city of Flint, Michigan, switched its water source from Detroit’s system to the Flint River to save money in April 2014.
The river water was more corrosive than the Detroit system’s and caused more lead to leach from Flint’s aging pipes.
Lead can be toxic and children are especially vulnerable.
Some 8,000 children are believed to have been exposed to lead poisoning since April 2014. And there has been an uptick in cases of Legionnaire’s disease.
Demonstrators demand action from the GOP presidential candidates about the water crisis in Flint before the GOP presidential debate on March 3, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan
The social costs stemming from the scandal amount to $395 million, according to a recent analysis by a professor at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
The crisis has prompted lawsuits by parents in Flint, which has a population of about 100,000, who say their children have shown dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.
In July six state employees in Michigan were criminally charged in connection with the case.
Some critics have called for high-ranking state officials, including Governor Rick Snyder, to be charged. Snyder said he believes he’s done nothing criminally wrong.
Here is a timeline of the events:
APRIL 2014: In an effort to save money, Flint began drawing its water from the Flint River instead of relying on water from Detroit.
The move was considered temporary while the city waited to connect to a new regional water system.
Residents immediately complained about the smell, taste and appearance of the water.
They also raised health concerns, reporting rashes, hair loss and other problems.
To save money, Flint began drawing its water from the Flint River (pictured) instead of Detroit’s in 2014. Residents immediately complained about the smell and taste of the water
SUMMER 2014: Three boil-water advisories were issued in 22 days after positive tests for coliform bacteria.
OCTOBER 2014: A General Motors engine plant stopped using Flint water, saying it rusted parts.
JANUARY 2015: Flint sought an evaluation of its efforts to improve the water amid concerns that it contained potentially harmful levels of a disinfection byproduct.
Detroit offered to reconnect Flint to its water system. Flint insisted its water was safe.
JAN. 28 2015: Flint residents snapped up 200 cases of bottled water in 30 minutes in a giveaway program. More giveaways followed in ensuing months.
FEB. 3 2015: State officials pledged $2 million for Flint’s troubled water system.
Flint residents snapped up 200 cases of bottled water in 30 minutes in a giveaway program. More giveaways followed in ensuing months
FEBRUARY 2015: A 40-member advisory committee was formed to address concerns over Flint’s water.
Mayor Dayne Walling said the committee would ensure the community was involved in the issue.
MARCH 19 2015: Flint promised to spend $2.24 million on immediate improvements to its water supply.
MARCH 27 2015: Flint officials said the quality of its water had improved and that testing found the water met all state and federal standards for safety.
SEPT. 24 2015: A group of doctors led by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center urged Flint to stop using the Flint River for water after finding high levels of lead in the blood of children. State regulators insisted the water was safe.
SEPT. 29 2015: Gov. Rick Snyder pledged to take action in response to the lead levels. It was the first acknowledgment by the state that lead was a problem.
OCT. 2 2015: Snyder announced that the state would spend $1 million to buy water filters and test water in Flint public schools.
OCT. 8 2015: Snyder called for Flint to go back to using water from Detroit’s system again.
OCT. 15 2015: The Michigan Legislature and Snyder approved nearly $9.4 million in aid to Flint, including $6 million to help switch its drinking water back to Detroit.
The legislation also included money for water filters, inspections and lab testing.
NOV. 3 2015: Voters elected newcomer Karen Weaver over incumbent Mayor Dayne Walling amid fallout over the drinking water.
DEC. 29 2015: Snyder accepted the resignation of Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant and apologized for what occurred in Flint.
Governor Rick Snyder (pictured) hit back at critics who said he should be charged. At a hearing in 2016, Snyder said he believes he has not done anything criminally wrong
JAN. 5 2016: Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint, the same day federal officials confirmed that they were investigating.
JAN. 12 2016: Snyder activated the Michigan National Guard to help distribute bottled water and filters in Flint and asked the federal government for help.
JAN. 13 2016: Michigan health officials reported an increase in Legionnaires’ disease cases during periods over the past two years in the county that includes Flint.
JAN. 14 2016: Snyder asked the Obama administration for major disaster declaration and more federal aid.
JAN. 16 2016: President Barack Obama signed emergency declaration and ordered federal aid for Flint, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate relief efforts.
APRIL 2016: Governor Rick Snyder hit back at critics who said he should be charged. Snyder said he believes he’s done nothing criminally wrong.
JULY 2016: Six state employees in Michigan criminally charged in connection with the case.