Why 'Drink More Water'?

Another reporter: Are we talking about replacing sugary drinks and sodas with water?”

Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, fielded that one. “It's less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we're being completely positive. Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. "

This is a public health campaign. How could this be anything but a public health campaign?

It will involve PSAs from first lady that will run nationwide, banner ads on prominent sites, the “Drink Up” logo on 500 million bottles of water and more than 10,000 outdoor public taps, and a website called You Are What You Drink. Like everyone, they have social media strategies. These involve the Twitter hashtag "#drinkH20" and “celebrities with combined followings of over 100 million.”

How is this not a public health campaign? What is it?

“[Today’s] launch in Watertown will involve having fun. It will emphasize emotional appeal, like a product launch more than a public health campaign,” Kass said.

No, I still don’t get it.


Just, don’t think about it. Repeat the slogan you’re going to hear: "When you drink water, you Drink Up."

"When you drink water, you Drink Up."

"When you drink water, you Drink Up!"

Also, this could be of interest. Because, as Soler put it, “We want to include every aspect of the water community … Many water brands are lending their assets.”

That includes American Beverage Association, Aquafina, Arrowhead, Beverly Hills 90H20 (no joke), Britta, Dasani, Evian, Global Tap, Ice Mountain, International Bottled Water Association, Nestle Purelife, Poland Springs, Smart Tap, Swell, Voss, and Zephyr Hills.

Is that, I mean I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything, but is that relevant?

As Kass put it, the campaign must involve “leveraging the power of the private sector to make a creative choice for consumers in new, fun, positive ways that will resonate with people trying to make a healthier choice to put this country on a healthier track.”

Municipalities are also signing on. “The breadth and scope of this is truly extraordinary," Kass said. "Cities will also be partners: Chicago and Houston, as well as Watertown. It's not just bottled water, either. ... Cities will promote this positive message.”

I’m still not sure why Chicago would be telling me to drink more water. Or if I should. So I inquired further with the First Lady’s press office.

Me: Hi, one follow-up question from today's call. Do you know where the CDC daily water intake recommendations (mentioned in the call) are available?

August: Here are two relevant sources. (This is the one that says 43 percent of Americans drink less than four cups of water a day, including 7 percent who don’t drink any water daily.) And here’s an attachment, which says that a quarter of American children aren’t drinking any water on any, given day.

Me: Thanks! So, I don't find a recommended amount of water per day anywhere. Unless I'm missing something, which I totally could be. I know this is an area of debate in medicine ...

August: For your background, the new campaign isn’t going to go into how many glasses, ounces, etc. people should drink every day. The campaign and the First Lady will be asking people to just drink more water – starting with just one more glass a day.


Bordering on begging for some sort of rationale or standard, one reporter did at one point ask, “How much water does Mrs. Obama drink on a daily basis?”

Kass said, "She is a water drinker from morning until night."

Between the lines of statements like that, I hope what's really meant by "Drink up!" is this: Replace soda with water, yes. Remember that too much water can still be bad, though, and for most people we have no reason to believe that an extra glass of water will result in health benefits. Drinking a glass of water certainly shouldn't replace otherwise healthy behavior or give anyone a sense of confidence in their health that justifies subsequent unhealthy behavior. When you’re thirsty, yes, choose water over something with empty calories. If you’re thirsty from morning until night, figuratively or otherwise, see a doctor. Don’t let anyone who doesn’t know how much water you drink tell you to drink more water.

If you’re wont to insist on chanting about defunding a national health initiative, consider this one. I know we're just trying to "keep things positive," but missing the opportunity to use this campaign's massive platform to clearly talk down soda or do something otherwise more productive is lamentable. Public health campaigns of this magnitude don't come around every day. This one squanders both money and precious celebrity Twitter endorsements. Keeping things positive and making an important point are not mutually exclusive, you fools.

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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