TikTok is one of the go-to places to make new or new-to-me discoveries. From fancy pasta to WFH office essentials to sleep or exercise hacks, there’s a whole wealth of information available for any user who has some time to swipe and watch. But with all the good that comes out of the app, there’s the occasional trend to crop up that shows way more ignorance than curiosity. The latest example? The viral “thick water” challenge encouraging folks to buy up thickened water, often just to taste it and remark at how “gross” or “weird” it is.
But, unfortunately, this trend is actually pretty harmful. For one thing, as one TikTok user iammrsnesbitt pointed out in response to one of these videos, it leads to kids and clueless adults buying up a product that people actually need — and it simultaneously puts an extra layer of shame and stigma around a product that makes hydration more manageable and accessible for those that need it.
@iammrsnesbittMy PSA for the day #psa #specialneeds #stroke #sanfilippo #sanfilipposyndrome #thickwater #trending #stop #carterschallenge
So to start, what is thickened water and why do people need it?
Some people with health conditions that make swallowing difficult may have issues drinking fluids. Per one study, “Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing. Thickened liquids are often used in the management of dysphagia to improve bolus control and to help prevent aspiration. A range of starches and gums has historically been used to thicken liquids. Although thickened liquids improve swallow safety, they appear to have a great potential for unintended physiological consequences.”
Thickened liquids can be bought at a CVS, Walmart or on Amazon (bar them being sold out from a trend urging people who don’t need them to buy them out) or can be DIY’d using recommended thickening agents.
While the consistency might be a bit interesting or strange to the uninitiated, people (especially children) with dysphagia benefit from the extra time to take in their liquid: “Thickened liquids move more slowly than thin liquids,” one write-up from Nationwide Children’s notes. “This gives your child extra time to control the liquid while swallowing and keep it out of the lungs. This helps protect the airway.”
TL;DR: Not all TikTok trends are created equal and sometimes a cursory Google search to fully understand why something exists and why people might benefit from it can help keep you from posting something deeply cringe, harmful and ableist (and that’ll also help you spreading cringe, harmful and ableist behavior to others).
Before you go, check out these natural kid’s cold products we love: