Study: Adding Water Machines to Cafeterias May Reduce Obesity


It is well-established that US kids are faced with an obesity epidemic that has put millions of young Americans at higher risk for developing multiple problematic health conditions. Rhodi Lee of Tech Times reports that a new study has found that an easy way to help students get healthier is simply by offering water in school cafeterias.

The researchers followed over 1 million K-8 schoolchildren in more than 1,200 schools for five years. The report’s goal was to observe the effects of putting water dispensers in school cafeterias that could provide filtered and cold water to students. The researchers wanted to see if doing so would help the almost 40% of New York City elementary and middle school children who are obese or overweight.

The study found that it is possible that offering students fresh water in school may be linked to moderate weight loss. The children’s choice to drink water rather than milk, or other drinks filled with fattening ingredients, can make a long-term difference in the number of calories a child consumes daily.

Published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, the study was led by Brian Elbel, from NYU School of Medicine in New York City, and colleagues.

The dispensers are called water jets and allow kids to drink chilled and oxygenated water which improves its taste. The water jets are priced at $1,000 a unit, and following their installation, researchers detected a decrease in the students’ purchases of chocolate milk (160 calories a cup) and sugary drinks (an average of 200 calories a cup).

Even before the study’s findings were published, New York City public schools were prohibited from selling beverages that were sweetened with refined sugar, but students have always been allowed to bring these drinks into the school lunchroom from outside.

The study was implemented by NYU Langone Medical Center, New York University’s Institute for Education and Social Policy, and the Center for Policy Research at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. It found the schools that installed the water jets saw a reduction in BMIs among boys of almost 1% and of girls .6%. Though these percentages look small, they represent a four- to five-pound weight loss for the average NYC middle schooler, reports the New York Daily News’ Stephen Rex Brown.

It has also been shown that water consumption can reduce hunger, which means that kids who drink from the water jets may just be eating less.

The large, crystal clear, electrically cooled machines with push lever dispensers were installed in 483 school lunchrooms, which amounts to approximately 40% of the city’s schools, in the 2008-2009 and 2012-2013 school years.

Old-fashioned water fountains, because of the quality of the water and lack of cleanliness, were possibly deterrents to children choosing to drink water. The old fountains were also not efficient at providing water to large numbers of children in a small amount of time, according to Mary Brophy Marcus of CBS News.

The new dispensers were purchased with money from a grant given by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports James T. Mulder for Syracuse’s The Post-Standard.

The study’s chief author Amy Ellen Schwartz, who is the Daniel Patrick Moynihan chair in public affairs in SU’s Maxwell School, said:

Decreasing the amount of caloric beverages consumed and simultaneously increasing water consumption is important to promote children’s health and the prevalence of childhood obesity.”