Most schools meet USDA drinking water mandate, more steps needed to encourage consumption

April 9, 2014

A new USDA mandate calling for access to free drinking water during lunchtime at schools participating in the National School Lunch Program went into effect at the start of the 2011-12 school year. Researchers from the University of Michigan and University of Illinois at Chicago examined compliance with the new requirement as well as perceptions about drinking fountain cleanliness and water quality. The study found that most schools met the new requirement; however, additional measures are needed to promote better access and encourage students to drink more water. Their findings are published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Water plays a key role in overall health. Yet, fewer than one-third of children and teens meet the recommended daily intake for their age group, and one-fourth of adolescents drink less than one serving of water a day. In lieu of water, many kids drink sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), which can contribute to obesity and dental problems.

The USDA requirement was designed to give students better access to free during lunchtime. Investigators found that most schools met the requirement through drinking fountains in the cafeteria, water pitchers on lunch tables, cups to use at drinking fountains, or by providing free bottled water. While most schools were in compliance with the new regulations, the study found that schools in the South were more likely to meet the requirement than schools in any other region of the United States. "This is consistent with other nationally-representative research showing that districts in the South have made faster progress in developing nutrition-related school wellness policies, and that they have stronger policies than do districts in other regions of the US," says corresponding author Lindsey Turner, PhD, Research Scientist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The study also looked at potential obstacles that might prevent students from taking advantage of free drinking water. Researchers found that although most study respondents indicated that the drinking fountains in their school were "clean" or "very clean," there was still worry about drinking fountain cleanliness. Water quality was also an issue, with about one-quarter of middle and attending schools where respondents indicated they were at least "a little" concerned about the quality of the drinking water.

Another issue that might prevent students from fully utilizing the free drinking water is ease of access and use of drinking fountains. "Although many schools rely on water fountains," explains Dr. Turner, "fountains may not be very effective at encouraging water consumption. The elementary students may need permission to get up, and if water is not available on the table with the meal, students must make a special trip and may have to wait in line to get water. So in terms of practicality, drinking fountains may not meet the need for access to water during meals."

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that between 1977 and 2001, soft drink consumption increased 48% among children ages 2 to 18 years old. The rising rate of kids drinking SSBs is associated with a decrease in milk consumption. The Academy states that soft drinks "have a dilutional effect on the intakes of many essential micronutrients" and raise children's total energy intake, which can contribute to obesity.

By making clean drinking water easily accessible to the over 30 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, schools are taking the first steps towards decreasing the amount of SSBs children are likely to consume; however, there is still a long way to go before kids are getting their daily recommended amount of water.

"With regard to changing student behaviors, nutrition professionals are credible messengers and are likely to be well-positioned to promote water consumption through educational activities," concludes Dr. Turner. "Collaboration among school staff such as administrators, nurses, teachers and other members of school wellness councils may be a particularly effective strategy to promote as part of creating a healthful school environment."

Explore further: School sick days could be reduced with safe drinking water

More information: "Availability of Drinking Water in US Public School Cafeterias," by Nancy Hood, PhD; Lindsey Turner, PhD; Natalie Colabianchi, PhD; Frank Chaloupka, PhD; Lloyd Johnston, PhD, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.02.001

Related Stories

School sick days could be reduced with safe drinking water

March 14, 2014
Providing free drinking water in schools could be key to helping people in developing countries lift themselves out of poverty according to research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Study finds secret to cutting sugary drink use by teens

March 26, 2014
A new study shows that teenagers can be persuaded to cut back on sugary soft drinks – especially with a little help from their friends.

Water myths revisited, from weight loss to hydration

March 18, 2014
(HealthDay)—Dieters are often told to drink plenty of water, but doing so won't help them shed excess pounds, an expert says.

Brain scans show what makes us drink water and what makes us stop drinking

March 25, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Drinking water when you're thirsty is a pleasurable experience. Continuing to drink when you're not, however, can be very unpleasant. To understand why your reaction to water drinking changes as your thirst ...

School drug tests don't work, but 'positive climate' might

January 13, 2014
School drug testing does not deter teenagers from smoking marijuana, but creating a "positive school climate" just might, according to research reported in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Recommended for you

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.