As with so many TikTok trends, #Watertok began with one video.
In April, a TikTok user named Tonya Spanglo went viral for a video of her making “Mountain Dew water” with a mix of flavor packets and low-sugar syrups.
“We’re going to start with a Tang packet,” Spanglo says in the video. “That’s my love language. That’s my childhood right there.”
She adds one pump of lime syrup by Skinny Mixes, followed by a skittles kiwi lime flavor packet. “If you don’t make that right there, and you used to love Mountain Dew – maybe you still love Mountain Dew – make that, and it’ll change your life,” she adds.
Since then, #WaterTok has dominated TikTok, enticing users to create “water” recipes through a variety of flavored packets and syrups.
The #WaterTok craze has led to syrup and water flavoring businesses like Skinny Mixes and Stur to see their products fly off the shelves, with some enthusiasts driving to several different stores just to find and stock up on flavors.
On its website, Skinny Mixes even acknowledges the trend: “Ride the WAVE as we (and all of TikTok) get hydrated deliciously!”
#WaterTok has more than 317 million views, making it one of the more popular trends on the site. It has also achieved mainstream media coverage from the likes of The New York Times, Bon Appetit and The Today Show.
However, the trend has not been universally beloved, with some backlash coming from TikTokers and health experts who are concerned it’s not healthy.
These flavored packets and syrups are often made with artificial sweeteners, so their zero-sugar labeling is appealing to people who are also seeking to lose weight.
Thus, #WaterTok enthusiasts argue the trend is a way for them to stay hydrated throughout the day in a fun way – by making their water a little bit tastier.
Similarly, people who have undergone bariatric surgery or lost a significant amount of weight argue it’s easier for them to stick to hydrating with seemingly healthy flavored drinks as a substitute for soda. Spanglo herself has noted that she began making water recipes following her bariatric surgery to help her meet her water goals.
In one video, user @that1sleevedtexasgirl explains why she can’t drink plain water after bariatric surgery.
“Mind your cup, and worry about yourself,” she tells #WaterTok haters.
However, #WaterTok reaction videos have also been popping up to offer a devil’s advocate position on the issue.
Notably, some TikTokers pointed out that the flavored drinks aren’t technically water anymore. Others pour an entire cup of sugar into a pitcher full of a concoction reminiscent of Kool-Aid and facetiously say they’ll drink several pitchers of “water” in a day.
All the #WaterTok drama aside, however, medical experts do have concerns about the use of artificial sweeteners.
Just last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended to not use artificial sweeteners – or non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) – for weight loss. The WHO said it based the guideline on research that shows artificial sweeteners don’t help people lose weight.
“Replacing free sugars with NSS does not help with weight control in the long term,” Francesco Branca, WHO director for nutrition and food safety, said in a statement. “NSS are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value.”
In addition, there has been research indicating a link between artificial sweeteners and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. One study published in BMJ last year found a correlation between artificial sweetener intake and a higher risk of heart diseases, though that doesn’t necessarily prove causation.
In some situations, however, artificial sweeteners can be helpful for people who are trying to wean themselves off soda, for example.
“Artificial sweeteners can help some people enjoy sweetness without excess calories,” the Mayo Clinic notes. “And if used in moderation, artificial sweeteners can be part of a healthy diet.”
Meanwhile, others on TikTok are sticking up for #WaterTok enthusiasts, arguing that drinking flavored waters isn’t the worst thing in the world.
“To those of who you are shaming WaterTok… [people] are just trying to meet their water goal where they can when they can!” one user writes in the comments of a video. “Leave [people] alone.”