Have we had our fill of water?

We’ve been told to drink at least eight glasses a day. Celebrities clutch bottles like fashion accessories and children are urged to swig in class. But as Nigella Lawson is outed as an ‘aquaholic’, is the tide finally turning on the health benefits of H20?

Over the last few weeks, those who visited the British Medical Journal’s website might have noticed an advert for a new public health initiative, Hydration for Health. It is sponsored by Danone – which owns the Evian, Volvic and Badoit bottled water brands – and urges healthcare professionals to encourage people to drink more water, claiming that “evidence is increasing that even mild dehydration plays a role in the development of various diseases”.

Margaret McCartney, a GP and columnist, saw these adverts and complained about it, writing an article for the BMJ (who admitted “we hadn’t followed our own guidelines. The advertisement bypassed our editorial checks”) about the lack of evidence – and citing the shortcomings of many studies – that people should be drinking more water. “I prefer to get my health information from unbiased sources rather than people with vested interests,” she says. The idea that we should drink eight glasses of water a day is expounded, among others, by the NHS Choices website. “This is not only nonsense,” writes McCartney, “but thoroughly debunked nonsense.”

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