Water Dispensers to Help Decrease Student Obesity

Water Dispensers to Help Decrease Student Obesity

A decrease in body-mass index (BMI) among overweight or obese children has been seen in New York City public schools that have installed the new water dispensers – known as water jets – a new study suggests.

In the study – published Tuesday (Jan. 19) in the journal JAMA Pediatrics – the researchers looked at more than one million school children in 1,225 schools over a five-year period. They found a decline of 0.5 percent in the obesity rate among girls and one percent one percent among boys.

Brian Elbel, an associate professor of population health at the Langone Medical Center of New York University, said that although the numbers are quite small they are very meaningful, especially for such a low-cost intervention that could be widely implemented throughout public schools in New York City.

To reduce the rate of childhood obesity, the New York City Department of Education has taken a number of measures, such as removal of almost all sugary beverages from cafeterias and vending machines (the only sugary drink that can now be purchased is low-fat chocolate milk), and the introduction of healthier food options in public schools.

The new water jets have dispensers that serve cool, fresh tap water. They were first introduced in 2009 at the cost of approximately $1,000 each. During the study period, about five hundred of the 1,227 schools received the water jets. Throughout the five years, the researchers looked at the weight and height measurements of the students.

Researchers used a height to weight ratio known as body-mass index (BMI) to figure out which of the student were overweight or obese. Although the reason for improved weight is not one hundred percent clear, the researchers found that during the study period there was a decline in chocolate-milk purchases, Elbel noted. A cup of low-fat chocolate milk usually has about 160 calories, and sugary drinks (which were purchased from outside the schools) have about two hundred calories per cup.

Lindsey Turner, director of the Initiative for Healthy Schools at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, said that unlike bottled water (which is also more expensive), oxygenated tap water also contains fluoride that helps combat dental problems.

Water jets could also be a great alternative to traditional drinking fountains that sometimes have water-quality problems, according to administrator reports from 25 percent of middle schools and high schools across the United States.

Erin Hager, co-author of the study and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, stated that sometimes even the simplest interventions can have really powerful effects.

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