Kane Race, “Frequent Sipping: Bottled Water, The Will to Health, and the Subject of Hydration,” Body & Society, 2012

How Did We Get So Thirsty?

With all the benefits drinking water is said to provide—healthy skin, better digestion, more energy, weight loss, and more—it isn’t surprising that there are few places where people are not constantly sipping water. In the most recent issue of Body & Society, Kane Race provides some much needed context by asking how we got so obsessed with hydration.

Through detailed analysis of the global marketing of bottled water, Race shows companies have shifted our understanding of water as a basic resource to a personal health responsibility. Race finds companies have drawn on exercise science (not the medical or nutrition fields) and applied the conclusions of research on high performance athletes to the general population. Because, hey, even if we can’t perform like high-level athletes, we should drink like them!

The language of fluid replacement was soon mixed with disparate types of expertise to create an authoritative—and highly technical—explanation of the need to be hyper-hydrated. Perhaps most impressive, water companies, operating as medical experts, have established the counter-intuitive claim that thirst itself is not a reliable measure of when the body needs water.

Thanks to Race’s work, it is possible to see how successful advertising campaigns from companies such as Evian and Perrier and groups like the International Bottled Water Association have shaped our very experience of something as basic as drinking water. And he helps us understand how we reached such a precarious position: according to websites like Danone Waters’ Hydration4Health (for “health professionals” and the “general public“), we’re all just a few sips from dehydrated ruin.


  • ahimsa 7:30 pm on December 6, 2012 | # | Reply

    I have no idea why healthy people carry their water bottles but I carry mine because I have a medical condition.

    I won’t go into all the details but I need to drink about 3 liters per day. This extra water, along with salt tablets and the drugs prescribed by my cardiologist, helps me get through the day with fewer symptoms.

    I realize that folks with medical conditions are probably a tiny percentage of those who carry water bottles. I’m not arguing with the main points of this article. I just wanted to remind others not to jump to assumptions when you see someone carrying around a water bottle.

    People with invisible disabilities are everywhere. We look may look healthy and “normal” but we are not.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe without commenting

About Gravatars: The images next to each commenter's name are gravatars.