WTF is Watertok, and why should we be worried?
A food fad or edible trend is not uncommon on TikTok. Cloud bread, mug cake, baked oats, and pink sauce are all famous for becoming TikTok kitchen royalty. And then there’s the endless list of food-related challenges that have swept the nation, including the 10min Cheeseburger Challenge, which is exactly what the name suggests.
All harmless, relatively easy, and much hunger-inducing food is an increasingly popular category on TikTok, and any trend, challenge, or #giveitatry often spreads like wildfire, especially amongst young people.
The newest food craze, however, is one to not only be aware of but also be concerned about for a number of reasons. Meet Watertok, the latest and no-so-greatest consumable idiocrasy sweeping through social media.
What is Watertok?
Amassing over 130 million video views via the hashtag, Watertok is a strong community of people who claim to dislike the taste of water and/or want to drink more water in a way that they enjoy it.
And how do they start to enjoy consuming water? By adding a TONNE of sugar powders and syrups to their H20 and sipping on it as if they’ve just won a million dollars.
What do the videos show?
No rocket science is used to make these videos; they show someone filling up a glass, tumbler, or drink bottle with water and small ice cubes or chips. The creator then states what they want their water to taste like and proceeds to throw in a whole heap of syrups and powders to achieve that flavour. ‘Water of the day’ is a popular theme or flow for many Watertok creators. They share their recipe for the day and encourage viewers to try it or make their own concoction.
There is birthday cake, orange creamsicles, and popular cocktails like pina colada, all being created with water and additives that enthusiasts store within their pantries or even as part of their home ‘water bars’ which feature a whole heap of powdered sugar flavours like Nerds, Sunkist, and Starburst.
The videos end with the Watertokker sipping on their watery concoction with delight. There are ‘ooohs’ and ‘aahs’ and lots of ‘my gosh, this takes just like a wedding cake’ comments. They are encouraging and positive and make viewers feel good about creating their flavoured waters.
So, what’s the issue? It’s just water, right? Well, after doing some research, it is actually quite the opposite.
The use of zero-sugar or low-sugar additives is heavily highlighted within Watertok videos giving viewers the illusion that their flavoured waters are healthy. Promoting zero and sugar-free to young people can contribute to developing unhealthy attitudes towards food and beverage consumption. Some young viewers may perceive these flavoured waters as a way to compensate for unhealthy eating habits or as a way to achieve unrealistic body standards and expectations.
According to Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfit, body image is one of the biggest personal concerns for Australian girls and boys aged 16-19. In fact, 70% of adolescent girls told her that they dislike their bodies.
Poor body image can have several negative effects on young people, both physically and mentally.
Mental Health Poor body image can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. It can make young people feel ashamed and insecure about their bodies, leading to feelings of isolation and social withdrawal.
Poor body image is a significant risk factor for developing eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. Eating disorders can have severe physical and mental health consequences, including malnutrition, organ damage, and death. Eating disorders are glorified on many social media platforms including TikTok and Instagram with young people, in particular girls, seeing these pages and people as inspirational and the ideal way to look. The potential harm caused by Watertok is a strong possibility as our young people struggle with their body image daily as well as with eating disorders starting at a very young age.
Substance Abuse Poor body image can lead young people to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with negative feelings and emotions. Substance abuse can lead to addiction and other negative health consequences.
Physical Health Poor body image can lead to a lack of physical activity, which can result in obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues.
Relationships Poor body image can affect young people's ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. It can lead to social isolation and difficulties with intimacy.
The ingredients used to flavour water poses a number of health risks with many powders and syrups containing artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and other additives that can be harmful to health if consumed in excess. For example, some artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, have been linked to negative health effects such as headaches, dizziness, and digestive issues in some people. Additionally, some preservatives and additives used to flavour water, such as sodium benzoate, may have negative health effects, including allergic reactions and an increased risk of cancer.
And it’s no shock that these Mixologists’ waters may contain higher levels of sugar than plain water as they add in sachet after sachet of powdered sugar and multiple squirts of sugar-laden syrups. This is particularly problematic for young diabetics who may see these videos and think that, as it’s just water, that the additives won’t really matter too much.
The negative effects that can be caused by consuming too much sugar are many.
Weight Gain Consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain, as sugary foods and beverages are often high in calories but low in nutrients. Excess sugar consumption can lead to an increase in body fat and a higher risk of obesity.
Type 2 Diabetes Consuming too much sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes, a condition characterised by high blood sugar levels. Excessive sugar consumption can contribute to insulin resistance, a condition where the body becomes less responsive to insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels.
Consuming too much sugar can increase cardiovascular disease risk, including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Consuming too much sugar can lead to tooth decay, as sugar provides food for the bacteria that cause cavities. The acid produced by these bacteria can erode tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay and other dental problems.
Consuming too much sugar can lead to inflammation, a process that can contribute to the development of several health conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
What can parents do?
Talk to your children. You know those deep and meaningful conversations you have had with your friends at 3 am after a number of poor beverage choices (not Watertoks…)? Have one of those with your children, and then another one, and then another one.
Open communication is the best way to build trust between you and your child, and with trust comes honesty and openness. A child who feels heard, understood, and supported is more likely to tell you if they are experiencing any challenges.
Explain what the ‘perfect’ body is – one that moves, works, and makes good choices.
Talk about healthy eating and what is and isn’t the best things for them to put into their bodies on a regular basis.
Get to know their social media and online habits. Talk to them about what they’ve been watching or seeing online and ask them if there’s anything that has concerned them or that they want to show you.
Respect the age guidelines. Many social media platforms offer a recommended sign-up age, and although these aren’t enforced by law, it’s a good indication of what may or may not be suitable for your child.