Thanks so much to Anisha Patel, MD, MSPH, for her excellent presentation (4-8-13) at our seminar, jointly sponsored by Water INTERface and HNFE! Dr. Patel addressed the topic of: “Making Water the Easy Choice: The Current State of Drinking Water Access, Policies and Practices in Schools”. Dr. Patel is an Associate Professor at the University of California San Francisco, and a pediatrician. Her research addresses healthy beverage consumption in schools, childcare, and home settings.
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We don’t think about it, but the availability of drinking water to youths can have a huge impact on their health. In a study by Patel et al. in 2012, it has been shown that many schools didn’t even have free drinking water provided to students prior to the passing of a law requiring them to do so. Even when free drinking water was provided in food services areas in schools, only 1 in 25 students routinely drink the provided water.
According to Patel et al., while the allegation that sugar-sweetened beverages as a contributor to childhood obesity is nothing new. There are efforts around the country combatting this by trying to limit the availability of such beverages, but less effort in providing a healthier alternative such as water. In 2010, California enacted laws requiring schools to provide free drinking water at food service areas. Patel et al. examined whether such measures increases water consumption in students.
Patel et al. found that while drinking water is now required to be provided free of charge, students often choose not to drink the provided water. Most school chose to provide the drinking water through water fountains, which often were perceived by students to be undesirable. Many students opted to pay for bottled water rather than consuming the free water. I agree with Patel et al. that providing drinking water through a source that students deemed unreliable is not helping with the cause, but just maintaining the legal baseline. If school administrators do care about the health of the student body, they should explore how to encourage healthy intake of water, rather than just doing the legal minimum and calling it a day.
Regarding on the mindset of the school administration, Patel et al. also suggest disseminating water quality knowledge and requirements through educator associations, such that everyone is on the same page. I agree that unless the administrators themselves embrace the importance of healthy water consumption, the new policy would not be effective or sustainable. Sustainability of such programs requires ongoing implementation and monitoring, and thus cannot be maintained if the people in power lacks the passion for the cause itself.