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Is Michelle Obama over-hyping hydration?
Experts rush to pour cold water on the first lady's push to convince you to drink more H20
First fitness, then vegetables, now water? Is there no end to this dictatorship of diet?
First fitness, then vegetables, now water? Is there no end to this dictatorship of diet? (Flickr/Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
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irst Lady Michelle Obama is unveiling yet another new health initiative today: She really wants Americans to drink more water, touting it as "one of the best and easiest choices every one of us can make every day."

Over 40 percent of Americans drink less than half of the recommended three liters of water a day, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with one in four kids drinking no water at all on any given day. "Water helps you have more energy and stamina so you can do more, longer and with better focus,"said Sam Kass, executive director of the First Lady's "Let's Move!" program.

Who can argue with that? Plenty of people, it turns out.

While water is inarguably essential to our long-term health (people do tend to die after a few days without it), the first lady may be going too far in touting the energy-giving properties of H20. "The idea [that] drinking water increases energy, the word I've used to describe it is: quixotic," kidney specialist Dr Stanley Goldfarb of the University of Pennsylvania told Politico. Beyond hydration, he said, there's little evidence that water does anything for us at all. "We're designed to drink when we're thirsty," he said. "There's no need to have more than that." A 2008 editorial in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology also debunked the idea:

There is no clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water. Although we wish we could demolish all of the urban myths found on the internet regarding the benefits of supplemental water ingestion, we concede there is also no clear evidence of lack of benefit. In fact, there is simply a lack of evidence in general. [Journal of the American Society of Nephrology]

Too much water can even be bad for you, according to some experts. A 2011 report by Scottish doctor Margaret McCartney in the British Medical Journal found that drinking water when you aren't thirsty can impact mental performance. "There may be unintended harms from an enforcement to drink more water," she wrote. She even warned that an excess of water can lead to hyponatraemia, a swelling of the brain that is potentially fatal. Others point to less scientific reasons to avoid drinking an excess of water. "Drinking excessive amounts can also lead to loss of sleep," wrote Sophie Borland at The Daily Mail, "as people have to get up in the night to go to the toilet."

But some suspect Mrs. Obama's choice of venue for the initiative's launch today may signal the true focus of her campaign — the sugary, fatty evils of soda. The first lady will unveil the program in the aptly-named Watertown, Wis., which is also home to two large soda bottlers. Pepsi-Cola manufacturer and distributor Wis-Pak is based there, as is the 7-Up Bottling Co. A local Republican quoted at Wisconsin Reportersuspected Obama would use the visit to "pontificate on the evils of soda to the children of parents who pay their water bills bottling soda."

The campaign insists that's not the case. "We are being completely positive in our messaging," said Lawrence Soler of the Partnership for a Healthier America — which has joined with the first lady to promote the initiative — noting that bottle makers, water bottlers and other private sector firms are taking part in the initiative, too:

Every participating company has agreed to only encourage people to drink water — not focus on what people shouldn't drink, and not even talk about why they may feel their type of water is better than another. It's just: Drink more water. [Partnership for a Healthier America, via Politico]

Dan Stewart is a senior editor at The Week magazine. Originally from the U.K., he has been living in the United States since 2009.

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